Patagonia Inc., the Ventura-based outdoor clothing manufacturer, has kept about 12 million soda-pop bottles out of landfills in its program that produces garments from fabrics made of recycled plastic bottles.
Patagonia was a pioneer in the field when it began selling its “post-consumer recycled” line in 1993. From a single jacket, the offerings have grown to 34 apparel items, Bloomberg Business News reports.
The line has been so well received that the environmentally active company plans to continue boosting its use of recycled bottles, according to Patagonia spokesman Mike Harrelson. In fact, he says, additional environment-friendly fabrics will be added to the firm’s clothing line. “Our intent is to draw a line in the sand and move to organic cotton and recycled materials and never go back,” Harrelson said.
By June, Patagonia’s use of the polyester material will have kept 12.4 million pop bottles out of refuse dumps. That’s still far less than the number of bottles being discarded. According to one study, Americans use 2.5 million plastic soda containers every hour.
Patagonia uses the recycled fabric in solid colored garments only. Printed clothing made from the material doesn’t usually come out as soft as solids, the company says.
In fact, there appears to be a limit to how much of the material will be accepted in the marketplace. One producer of the fabric, Dyersburg Corp., doesn’t see it being used in fashions other than those geared toward consumers concerned about the environment, such as users of outdoor wear.
Nordstrom Inc. says it has looked into selling the clothing because of customer requests, but the retailer claims the material isn’t soft enough for its purposes. While most of the recycled clothing is very plush, in some cases it must be mixed with cotton to be really soft.
The fiber that’s the basis of the bottles-to-garments movement is called EcoSpun. It’s produced by Wellman Inc., a South Carolina firm that crushes and chops plastic bottles into flakes, then melts the pieces into a polyester fiber. the fiber is then sold to fabric manufacturers.
Lands’ End Inc., one of Patagonia’s competitors in outdoor clothing, recently joined the movement. Lands’ End began selling thermal underwear made from recycled bottles and is expanding its offerings in its fall, 1995, catalogue.
Still, some environmentalists question the long-term benefits of soda-bottle clothing.
“You can make T-shirts out of this, but all you’re really doing is temporarily diverting the plastic from the waste steam,” said Heather Spaulding, an official with the international toxics campaign of the environmental group Greenpeace. “Eventually, it will still probably be dumped in a landfill.”