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Since 2008, Rethink Fabrics has been giving plastic water bottles a second life. Formed by a group of apparel industry veterans, the Seattle-based company turns water bottles into T-shirts, jackets, and athletic wear. The clothes are made from recycled polyester, which came from clear plastic bottles that have been cleaned, crushed, melted, polymerized, and spun into yarn.

Rethink has manufactured eco-friendly clothing and accessories for Disney, Toyota, Evian, the Black Eyed Peas, and Brooklyn Industries, among others. According to Brooklyn Industries public relations and events coordinator Lorie DelMundo, their recycled polyester graphic tees “have been a hit”.

But what happens when these clothes have reached the end of their life? Can they be easily recycled with regular plastic? Unfortunately, the answer is no, as the shirts can’t be converted back into plastic bottles due to health and safety regulations.

Rethink is currently working on a solution to this problem in order to keep plastic out of landfills completely. The company is in talks with national retailers and plans to launch a program next year that will collect plastic bottle apparel and recycle them again into new garments. The shirts have to be 100 percent polyester, however, and prints must be water-based or heat-transferred. Other fabrics and plastisol ink are not recyclable.

Rethink’s global director of sustainable development Stacy Flynn says that while all their products are designed to be recycled at the end of their life, the technology to do so has yet to be fully developed. And with only 14 percent of textile products and less than 30 percent of plastic bottles in the US recycled in 2010, Flynn argues, “We need to ensure that garments get back into the supply chain.”

Additionally, according to the Rethink website, recycled polyester has a lower carbon footprint than nylon, virgin polyester, and organic cotton.

Environmentally conscious consumers will certainly look forward to what the future of sustainable fabrics will bring.

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