Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Recycled Snowboard T-shirts: aka "My PET snowboard tee, isn't he adorable?"

I mostly talk about boards on my blog and what materials and process tweaks make them sustainable. Clothing is probably the most well-known and marketed item to promote “green”, “eco-friendly”, and “sustainable” products. You've got your organic cotton, hemp, and recycled PET...and new materials being developed as we speak. Recycled bottles go in one end of the magic grinder and a coat comes out the end.

Wait, not so easy. How many bottles? Is this really saving the earth or just making us look cool?

In the snowboarding community,  it's old news that two of the largest corporations, Burton and Mountain Dew have partnered to bring you a line of recycled clothing and outerwear, part of Burton's Green Mountain Project. A few t-shirt styles have been released and sold only in flagship stores with more products to come in 2012-2013. 

Burton X Mountain Dew "Flake" tee.

Burton isn't the only company trying this approach, but perhaps the largest and most mainstream. Companies such as Lib Tech, Billabong, Nike, Patagonia, Volcom, Roxy, Dakine, Oakley, and others also have recycled outerwear. 

Roxy Pearl 

Billabong Recycler Series

LibTech Recycler Jacket

Will the Burton/Mountain Dew (Pepsi Co.) partnership finally bring environmental awareness to the snowboard masses? That's another blog. Mine is on the science side, so let's look at what happens in the magic grinder to make it happen.

PET aka rPET aka polyethylene terephthalate:

Also known as #1 plastic marked near the bottom of bottles commonly used in soft drinks, juices, water, and peanut butter. Most outerwear that is transformed from recycled plastic bottles is PET. This plastic can also be recycled into fiber for polyester carpet, fabric for t-shirts, athletic shoes, fiberfill for coats, and sleeping bags1.

When you toss your plastic bottles into a recycling bin, the first step is collection of the material and preparation for it's transformation into it's new re-purposed life.

Boardroom EcoApparel has a great graphic to illustrate.
The containers are picked up from a recycling center (be it community or one contracted by the manufacturer) and are then separated by types of plastic, indicated by the # on the bottom and also by color.

The foreign materials are removed, such as metal, labels, and caps. Next, the containers are crushed and shredded into flakes and then washed. The plastic flakes can also be melted again and formed into pellets. PET fabrics are created by spinning the PET flakes into a thread-like yarn. Below is a diagram of the process. The thread-like yarn is then used in the process of manufacturing. This is when the yarn enters the outerwear manufacturing process to become either a t-shirt, jacket, or pants.

Photo: PET flakes from NAPCOR

Afterwards, the product is ready for you to wear and you can be happy that you conserved some landfill space!

Interesting Facts:
*From www.napcor.com

-19 20oz. PET bottles yield enough fiber to make an X-large t-shirt or 1 sq ft. of carpet
-63 2oz. PET bottles equal one sweater
-14 20oz. PET bottles equal fiberfill for ski jacket
-As of 2005, 23.1% of 5.075 billion tons produced in the U.S. were collected from recycling (reuseit.com)

1. NAPCOR.com