Scientists At MIT Have Created Eco Friendly Polyethylene Fabric
A multi-national team at MIT has debunked the long-held belief that polyethylene fabric, the most widely available plastic, can’t be used for clothes.
Their new thread spun on standard machines, avoids the issue of polyethylene fabric trapping moisture, allowing for the creation of a game-changing material for use in the environmentally friendly textile industry.
One of the most polluting industries is the apparel and garment industry. Manufacturing threads made of nylon or polyester uses a lot of water and produce 5–10% of global greenhouse gas emissions per year—and worst of all, none of the fibers are recyclable.
Polyethylene, the material used in food wrappers and shopping bags, is anti-wicking, meaning it can hold water and sweat against the skin rather than wicking it away to evaporate like other athletic clothing.
The new method developed at MIT, on the other hand, has resulted in “efficient water wicking and fast-drying efficiency, which, when combined with their excellent stain resistance, offer promise in reducing energy and water consumption, as well as the eco-friendly footprint of textiles during their use phase.”
Furthermore, environmentally sustainable methods can be used to dye polyethylene yarns, avoiding the vast quantities of harmful wastewater that would otherwise be generated during traditional processes.
“It’s a challenge when someone drops a plastic bag into the ocean. But those bags could easily be recycled, and if polyethylene fabric can be made into a sneaker or a hoodie, it would be cost-effective to collect and recycle these bags,” wrote Svetlana Boriskina. Lead author of the accompanying paper and a research scientist in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT.
Boriskina and the team found that when polyethylene powder was stretched into fibers, similar to how spaghetti is made, the plastic became slightly oxidized, which they discovered during the manufacturing process.
This oxidation gave the yarn a hunger for warmth, causing it to pull away from sweaty armpits in ways it had never done before.
“According to everybody we spoke with, polyethylene fabric will keep you cool. However, since it rejects sunlight, it will be unable to consume water or sweat. It wouldn’t function as textile industry,” Boriskina explained.
They kept experimenting until they found fibers of the right diameter that allowed the space between them within the strand of yarn to wick the most amount of water.
The base powder can be colored with natural materials, and after a life-cycle study, they discovered that polyethylene clothing consumes significantly less energy than polyester, as well as natural cotton.
Part of this is due to the fact that nothing sticks to polyethylene fabric, so you could wash it in a cold cycle for 10 minutes and any stains will be gone. The best aspect is that the clothing is completely recyclable thanks to natural dye.
The best inventions often come from a simple double-check on already existing infrastructure and products, rather than from new elements, new devices, or new technology.