In Potential Sustainable Apparel Breakthrough, MIT Scientists Find Way to Make Wearable (and Comfortable) Fabric From Fibers Used in Plastic Bags
MIT scientists think they found a way to turn polyethylene (PE) fibers, the same material used for single-use shopping bags, into a wearable (and most importantly comfortable) fiber. This development could be huge as society moves away from single-use plastics and toward more environmentally-friendly materials.
Traditionally, PE was never considered for apparel since it is unable to wick moisture, but when MIT researchers wove PE into fibers, the resulting fabric was able to absorb and evaporate water more quickly than cotton, nylon or polyester.
According to Canadian Plastics, the MIT team hopes that using fabrics made from PE could create an incentive to recycle existing shopping bags, which have either been completely banned or are on the way out in many cities and states, into sustainable apparel.
They estimated that this process would require less energy to produce than polyester or cotton fibers, which is crucial as apparel companies look for ways to use fewer resources and create more sustainable products.
The MIT team is looking at ways to incorporate this material into athletic apparel, military attire and even space suits, as PE protects against X-ray radiation.
The researchers created the fiber by taking PE in its raw powder form and using "standard textile manufacturing equipment to melt and extrude it into thin fibers, in a process comparable to turning out strands of spaghetti,” according to Canadian Plastics. They realized that doing so oxidized the fibers, thus making it able to wick moisture away. When they wove the strands together, they found that water molecules could be absorbed in the spaces between fibers and brought to the surface.
The team also found that it could incorporate different colors in the process by adding colored particles in the powdered PE before melting it down.
This could be a major breakthrough in both sustainable apparel manufacturing as well as managing the effects of single-use plastics on the planet.