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Science Made Simple: How Plastic is Turned into Polyester

Posted on 29 March 2016

You might be wondering how our board shorts are so buttery soft if they're made from 11 plastic bottles. Plastic is made of, well, plastic, and shouldn't the shorts be just as tough and scratchy?

Thanks to new recycling technologies, we can now turn plastic bottles into soft, polyester thread to make eco-friendly clothing. Conveniently, plastic bottles and polyester thread are actually made of the same substance - polyethylene terephthalate. That's a mouth full - we'll call it PET.

If you are a curious and conscious consumer like we are, you might want to learn a little more about exactly how those 11 plastic bottles floating in our oceans are made into Fair Harbor board shorts. Keep reading to get a grasp on the lifespan of these plastic bottles through this process!

From Waste to Wear

Step 1:

So you've just finished a delicious bottle of your favorite soda, and you toss it in the recycling bin. What happens next? 

Your bottle then travels all the way to a bottle recycling center, where it's shredded to bits. Shredding is an important step because when we throw out our bottles, more often than not we leave a little bit of drink left in them. Moisture is a bad thing for this recycling process, so shredding gets rid of those extra drops of soda or juice. After the shredding process, the bits of plastic are ripped up and shipped abroad. 

Your bottle has been shredded and bundled into what most would consider large bags of trash. But these plastic flecks are actually extremely valuable materials if you're in the polyester production business. We send our plastic over to Suzhou, China, taking us to the next steps in the process. 

Step 2:

When the plastic bundles arrive at their destination, they're sorted based on color. For the purpose of making clothing, we want clear bottles. Clear bottles produce crisp white thread, which can be dyed in all sorts of colorful ways if need be. 

There's a lot more that has to go when the bundles of plastic are being sorted. Bottle caps made of tougher plastic won't do for polyester thread, so we have to get them out somehow. Conveniently, the plastic used for caps float! The unwanted bottle caps are sifted out when the plastic is put through water. 

After the plastic goes through a bath of both water and chemicals and dried for 10 hours, what's left are clean and clear bits of plastic. Done? Not yet. We can't sew up the flecks of plastic into board shorts. Next the mixture is sent through hot pipes to melt down the plastic. In order to make thread, the molten plastic flows through tiny holes to make filaments - threads that are 5 times finer than human hair! 

Step 3:

So we have thread, are we set? Nope! Lastly, in order to get the raw substance we need to make polyester, we tear it up again! Really. The plastic filaments are torn into fluff that eventually gets strengthened into the polyester thread, in a process much similar to the production of cotton. 

There you have it! An entirely manmade product, but made from the materials that we toss in the trash! Now you know exact how your Fair Harbor board shorts are spun from plastic bottles. More of a visual learner? Check out a video of the ins and outs of the process on the Fair Harbor website. 

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