Research Press Release

Sustainability: Cheap plastics can be turned into sustainable fabrics

Nature Sustainability

March 16, 2021

A newly developed polyethylene fabric with a low environmental footprint is described in a paper published this week in Nature Sustainability.

The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, second only to oil and gas. Textile manufacturing consumes massive amounts of water and generates millions of tons of waste, as well as 5–10% of global greenhouse gas emissions annually. Textile maintenance often consumes even more energy and water than the production phase.

Svetlana Boriskina and colleagues used the standard textile industry processes and equipment to fabricate fibres, yarns and fabrics made out of polyethylene. Polyethylene is one of the most commonly used plastics today and is fully recyclable. The authors found that in the absence of any chemical treatment, the fabrics are resistant to staining and allow for efficient moisture wicking and fast drying. Polyethylene yarns can be coloured by environmentally friendly methods, thus eliminating the large amounts of toxic wastewater otherwise created during conventional processes. They also found that the use of polyethylene offers substantial reduction of the environmental footprint of textiles during the use phase.

The authors conclude that this fabric could offer unique advantages for a wide range of applications and consumer markets in the textile industry and beyond.


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