Take an eco-friendly dip this summer
And there's no exception when it comes to swimwear. Many fashion brands are using plastic waste — the ocean’s worst threat to marine creatures — to make this summer's most stylish swimsuits. With the popularity of sustainable fashion on the rise, swimsuits made of eco-friendly materials are in demand.
Donoblue, a Korean swimsuit brand that was established in April last year, makes eco swimwear solely from recycled polyester yarn. Swimwear fabric is mostly made of nylon and polyester, which are synthetic fibers extracted from petroleum. Among them, the polyester fiber material is the same as the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) — the raw material of the plastic bottles we use every day.
If the raw materials are the same, why don't we make fiber out of plastic containers that need to be discarded instead of extracted from oil?
Actually, the process of making sustainable swimwear is rather simple. The discarded plastic bottles are crushed into small pellets and then heated to melt and extrude polyester yarn. Once the yarn is woven together, it becomes a fabric ready to be made into a swimsuit.
Underwear brand Oysho of Spanish clothing company Inditex Group introduced its sustainable swimsuit collection in June, offering a variety of styles including both one-pieces and bikinis made from recycled polyester fabrics.
The U.S. underwear brand Arie also introduced its swimsuit collection "Real Good Swimwear" made of recycled polyester in February.
Single-use PET bottles are not the only recyclables that can become swimsuits. Nylon waste resources, such as fishing nets and fishing rods can be made into regenerative nylon, which can then be transformed into swimwear.
Econyl, a regenerated nylon material by Italian textile company Aquafil, is the most well-known.
According to Aquafil, every 10,000 tons of Econyl raw material saves 70,000 barrels of crude oil and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 57,100 tons. It also has the effect of reducing global warming by up to 80 percent compared to virgin nylon.
Reusing waste nets is not limited to making swimwear. The eco-friendly outdoor sports brand Patagonia’s Bureo hat is also made by recycling discarded nets dumped in the sea.
Hyoseong T&C took a different approach and developed a regenerative nylon thread called Mipan Regen, which utilizes the leftover parts of nylon generated during the process of making consumer products.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), over 8 million tons of plastic end up in oceans each year. In 2016, the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicted that there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050 unless people stop using single-use plastic items such as plastic bags and plastic bottles. Renewable plastic fibers are drawing attention as one of the ways to reduce increasing marine waste. Using fishing nets, which account for most of the plastic waste in the ocean, to make recycled nylon is both environmentally friendly and ocean-friendly.
Although they are made out of recycled materials, there is no difference between existing polyester and nylon that are extracted from petroleum products. In other words, there are no limitations in expressing design, color or function.
The only problem is the additional cost in making the fabric through extra steps such as classifying waste types and properly cleaning them. Because of higher production costs, the price of an eco-friendly swimsuit is of course higher than that of ordinary swimwear. But as an increasing number of consumers become more environmentally friendly, more people are choosing eco-friendly swimsuits, even if they are more expensive.
A problem faced by local swimwear companies is that utilizing domestic waste plastic is difficult. To make domestic regenerative polyester, waste plastic is imported from overseas because the waste plastic bottles collected in Korea are of poor quality, with colored and clear bottles mixed together and labels and lids not removed.
Recently, however, there has been a consensus to reduce the import of plastic waste and joint efforts in implementing pilot projects that utilize domestic waste resources.
Last month, Jeju Samdasoo, Jeju Island, Hyosung T&C and Pleats Mama came together to make a bag out of regenerated yarn recycled from discarded plastic bottles in Jeju. Black Yak, Kolon FnC and TK Chemical also participated in a pilot project to produce functional clothing using PET bottles collected by bottled water brand Sparkle.
"Italy's Econyl, which is favored by many fashion brands such as Prada and Gucci, is expected to have a difficult time meeting the demand in the future due to the Covd-19 outbreak, and are struggling to find another source of supply and demand," Song Yoon-il, CEO of Blue Orb, said. "I hope that domestic regeneration fabrics that process discarded waste in Korea can be more widely used."
BY YOO JI-YOEN, KIM YEON-AH [firstname.lastname@example.org]