There is a huge pile of plastic trash floating in the Pacific Ocean. On land and sea, animals get sick and die from ingesting plastic. Plastic never decomposes. It just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, with unknown environmental consequences. Plastic bottles are an environmental menace when people toss them out of car windows, or even put them in the trash to live forever in a landfill leaching who knows what into the ground water. But those same plastic bottles can be a precious resource when recycled.
For example, in 2006 Unifi began to market a polyester fabric, called Repreve™, made from 100% recycled plastic. Older polyesters, as well as plastic bottles, are made from oil. Repreve thus has several environmental benefits. It does not need the oil necessary to make an equivalent amount of traditional polyester. Manufacturing Repreve requires less energy and emits less than half as much carbon dioxide than making virgin polyester. And the 247 million plastic bottles used to make Repreve over the past two years never became part of the waste stream.
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and Duke University are but two of many universities, colleges, and high schools that have begun to purchase caps and gowns made of Repreve. Duke alone expects its caps and gowns to use 10,000 plastic bottles this year. That’s one institution using one product for one year made of one brand of recycled fabric. Multiply that 10,000 plastic bottles by all the other schools buying caps and gowns from the same company!
Consider that Repreve can be used for many more products than that, and that there are other polyesters on the market made from recycled plastic bottles—not to mention that the bottles can be made into other things besides fabric. Why are we allowing so much of this precious resource to accumulate in the ocean or along the side of the road? Waste not, want not, as the saying used to go.
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