an international team of researchers transformed polyethylene into lightweight fabrics with less environmental impact than natural fibers such as cotton. Polyethylene, also known as polyethylene, is a material commonly found in single-use plastic bags and food packaging. scientists hope this breakthrough could spur to recycle plastic products.
‘once someone throws a plastic bag in the ocean, it is a problem. but those bags could easily be recycled, and if you can turn polythene into sneakers or a hoodie, it would make economic sense to pick up those bags and recycle them. says svetlana boriskina, a researcher in the mechanical engineering department at MIT, who participated in the project alongside scientists from italy, south korea and mexico.
image by felice frankel, christine daniloff, MIT (main image by brian yurasits)
Polyethylene is a non-absorbent material, which means it absorbs water and sweat rather than wicking it away. the main breakthrough of this research was to transform polyethylene into a yarn capable of wicking moisture, making it more functional as a garment. Additionally, researchers claim that new polyethylene fabrics wick and wick moisture faster than nylon or polyester.
“You can refresh the material by rubbing it against itself, and this way it retains its absorption capacity”, said boriskina. ‘it can pump moisture continuously and passively.’
In addition to its absorbent properties, polyethylene textiles can be cleaned at a lower temperature and dyed with colored particles, which would reduce the ecological footprint of the material. ‘we don’t need to go through the traditional process of dyeing textiles by dipping them into solutions of harsh chemicals. we can color the polyethylene fibers completely dry and at the end of their life we could melt, centrifuge and collect the particles for reuse. ‘ boriskina continues, “You can wash polyethylene on the cold cycle for 10 minutes, instead of washing cotton on the hot cycle for one hour.”
the study was first published in Nature Sustainability.