Posted by George Wimmer | Environment

How plastic bottles are being used to make clothing

Adidas makes shoes with recycled ocean plastics. Pharrell Williams has launched a clothing collection with recycled ocean plastics and surfer legend; Kelly Slater has a line of clothing made 100% from reclaimed fishing nets. These, along with hundreds of big and small name brands, have been producing clothing with recycled plastics.

Much of our apparel is currently made from synthetic fibers, so this is not too much of a stretch to incorporate recycled materials. It uses recycled material like plastic bottles as the source versus making synthetic fibers from petroleum.

So let’s walk through the process.

First, recycle a bunch of plastic bottles. Those bottles are then shredded so all the remaining liquids can drain out. Clear containers are separated from the color bottles. Clear bottles are more valuable because they can make white fabric or be dyed any other color. We won’t go in-depth here, but artificial dyes are a whole other area of bad stuff.

Caps and labels need to go, so it is run through a bath – the lighter caps float to the top and are skimmed off. Then a caustic soda mix is used to strip any labels. Yeah, caustic soda is another troubling part of the process.

The plastic is ready to be melted then forced through a sieve and starts to look like a threaded material. This thread is ripped apart to create what looks like cotton wool fluff. That material is put through another machine to make all the fibers go the right direction the turned into a cloth-like thread that creates a large sheet of polyester material.

Plastic bottles being turned into clothing

So the process is more about the type of material used on the original input – recycled bottles versus petroleum.

Now companies like Adidas or Patagonia plus hundreds of other businesses make their clothing and sell it. It is an excellent use of otherwise single-use plastics. The cost is 10% to 15% more to use recycled material.

The company that created Repreve, which makes fabric from recycled bottles, estimates it has used over 14 billion plastic bottles in the few years it has existed. A good start by this one company and many other companies are doing the same. So how does this stack up against the number of plastic bottles in use? Well, the United States alone uses 38 billion plastic bottles each year. Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastics enter our ocean on top of the estimated 150 million metric tons already in the sea.

By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans, extensive use of plastic has increased 20-fold in the past 50 years, and is expected to double again in the next 20 years. Reusing plastics is a critical piece to solve this pollution problem over the next decade as we work on better solutions such as bio-plastics. It is a substantial environmental positive to get these single-use plastics reused and replace the use of new petroleum in the supply line.

plastic bottles on the beach

What is becoming clear to everyone is that the most significant issue we face is the microplastics that are shed by all types of plastics. These microplastics that separate from clothing or bottles or anything made of plastics are still a big issue with recycled plastics. In clothing, a potential solution is fitting washers n dryers with screens that can collect these microplastics before they enter the environment. I also thought of having such screens at wastewater plants. My experience in local government tells me this might be the best and most effective place to start.

Cost – the cost stated in several sources places it at 10% to 15% more to use recycled plastics. A recent shirt purchase I made of a Kastlfel shirt was 40% more than a similar shirt. I want to support recycling technologies, so I bought it, but the out of pocket cost is considerably higher. The environmental gain, however, small for one purchase, is still essential and, when added to thousands more, becomes life-altering.


Posted by George Wimmer | Environment

The environmental concern of road salt

Road salt is not the most exciting topic for many, but for those who live where it snows and roads can become encased in ice, it has been a lifesaver. As a Mayor, I would drive through my city to check our roads during snowstorms to ensure they were safe for morning commutes and school buses. Over 2000 lives are lost, and icy roads and snow cause over 200,000 injuries.

It all started in the United States in 1938 when New Hampshire experimented with granular sodium chloride. The winter of 1941 to 1942 saw 5,000 tons nationwide on our roads. Depending on winter conditions in recent years, we have used between 10 to 20 million tons of salt.

So what is road salt? It is the raw form of table salt. The rock salt is mined and has impurities that can give it a ‘dirty’ appearance. Road salt works by lowering the temperature at which water freezes and must be applied wet. The salty brine mixture that gets spread on roads has saved lives. It has also caused significant environmental concerns.

road salt on a highway

The chloride in road salt does not breakdown. When that liquid brine or the solid salt pours on roads or sidewalks, it eventually gets washed away. It can end up along streets, yards, or fields; it harms pets and wildlife. Then either seeps into groundwater or our lakes and streams. That sodium chloride is corrosive, not only to ice, but it eats away at roads, bridges, and vehicles.

Everything from cheese brine, pickle, and beet juice get used on icy roads, but they all need sodium chloride to work. Another issue with these alternative mixtures is that the organic material ends up in lakes and streams and reduces oxygen levels causing aquatic life to die. This article has a lot of bad news about ways to clear roads and save lives so far.

A possible solution is potassium acetate. First, it melts ice at lower temperatures than road salt. That sodium chloride stops working when it gets colder than 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Secondly, potassium acetate does breakdown naturally overtime. Lastly, less is needed to clear the same amount of road miles. The known negatives so far are it does kill some aquatic insects when it too gets washed into our waterways and does cost more.

At best, potassium acetate might be a stepping stone to a better solution, but it is progress. Thousands of lives and our environment hang in the balance of figuring this one out.

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In this article, we will discuss a continuing problem for our planet and our own lives—the pervasiveness of plastics, especially single-use plastics. Approximately 8 million metric tons of plastics end up in our oceans each year. If that wasn’t bad enough – of that amount, 236,000 tons are microplastics. Tiny pieces that are easily ingested by sea life. There are five massive floating garbage patches. The great pacific garbage patch is the size of Texas. 

The total amount of plastics pouring into our oceans will have increased ten times in the last decade. To show how horrifying the increasing amount of plastic each year dumped into our oceans is – by 2050, there will be more plastics by weight than fish in our oceans. The thought that plastics were floating on the surface is not correct. Plastics are miles deep in our waterways. Many marine species can’t digest the plastics they eat, so they end up starving to death.

Our coral reefs are in jeopardy for many reasons. A coral has an 89% chance of dying after coming into contact with plastics. It is not only bad for the coral but since 25% of marine species live in coral reefs, it is even worse than that. It’s not all about marine life. Even if you don’t care what happens to the sea creatures, please be selfish and understand that when they eat these plastics and the microplastics, that same material could end up on your dinner plate.

coral reef dying from plastic

test off Monterey Bay in California found plastics in every red crab tested, every giant larvacean, and so many more marine species. The Great Garbage patch I mentioned has more plastic than prey species. It is not sustainable. So what can be done? What can we do as individuals and local communities? First, we as individuals have got to change our bad habits – and I know many have and are trying. We need to end single-use plastic use. Things like plastic straws are easy to stop using.  You could play the quiz at the end of this episode for a chance to win our Wimmer’s Wilderness Reusable/Retractable straw for free. This one act in the United States alone would be monumental. Approximately 500 million straws get used each day. That is 182.5 billion straws a year in the United States alone. 

So what does that look like – what does 500 million straws mean? Five hundred million straws could fill over 127 school buses each day, or more than 46,400 school buses every year! Eliminating single-use straws is an easy first step to tackling single-use plastics. If successful, it can show how we, as a society, can change our behavior. Plastic straws are but one item whose use must end. Eliminating straws alone will not end the disastrous plastics flowing into our oceans, lakes, and streams, but it is a crucial measure to see who we are as people.

If we can’t change a straightforward activity, then we are doomed. Plastic straws are a symbol of our convenience first & throw it away society. If we can end the single-use plastic straw, it will help the environment for sure. Still, the more significant impact will be governments and businesses knowing that our country can improve.

So what to do at the local level? Have your community end the use of single-use plastic straws. Many organizations are doing just that. Restaurants need to put an end to this wasteful and harmful practice. If some say it infringes on their freedom – say you want to ensure everyone’s freedom to live for generations to come. 

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