May 10, 2021
Turning Plastics into Polos: DGrade’s Sustainable Approach to Fabric
The United Arab Emirates uses 2.75 billion water bottles every year, but less than six percent are recycled, with the rest ending up as litter and landfill. DGrade wants to change that, developing a process that turns some of those wasted bottles into fabric that they use to create sustainable shirts, caps, and masks.
This transformation is possible because the main component of plastic water bottles, PET plastic, is made from polyester, just like most synthetic fabrics. To turn the plastic into material, DGrade uses a process they call Greenspun Technology, where water bottles are turned into small flakes before being melted into a soft polyester fibre. This fibre is then spun into yarn and turned into clothes and other accessories. Not only does this approach mean less water bottles are going to landfill, but it uses 50% less energy and emits 55% less carbon as compared to creating polyester yarn from scratch. DGrade sell their own collections and offer wholesale production of uniforms, meaning individuals and larger organisations can all get involved in their sustainable methods.
The technology involved in this process is more expensive than traditional methods, meaning that, overall, sustainably made clothes like DGrade’s cost roughly ten percent more for the consumer than conventional polyester garments. But it’s also expensive to be constantly throwing away waste products, with the World Economic Forum estimating that around $120 billion is lost to the global economy every year because of the amount of single-use plastics that are sent to landfill rather than sold for reuse. DGrade are taking initiative in making waste useful for local and global economies, leading to better economic and environmental outcomes in the long run.
DGrade also works with communities to maximise their sustainable efforts, sourcing plastic waste locally to convert into fabric. Through their Simply Bottles campaign, the firm organises events with schools and organisations where they teach people about the importance of sustainable practices, engaging them in the collection of plastic waste in their own workplaces and at local beaches and deserts. This outreach work encourages more recycling in the community as a whole while also creating networks between DGrade and local organisations, who can send their plastic to the company for recycling. These connections, as well as the agreements DGrade maintains with sports centres and entertainment venues, provide the fifty million bottles the company uses every month to keep up with their production schedule.
With the rise of circular economy, designers are finding increasingly innovative ways of using materials from other industries, and DGrade is a great example of a business taking advantage of an abundant waste product. Their work reduces the number of bottles going to landfill and engages the community in moving the world forward together, fostering a movement for change on multiple levels.
For more examples of innovative uses of waste, check out our article on Professor Veena Sahajwalla’s method of turning glassware and clothing into ceramics.