It's a well-known fact that plastic invades the oceans. We've long been talking about the 270,000 tonnes of plastic floating on their surface, killing marine animals and reaching shorelines. In the most densely polluted places, there's even talk of garbage continents, waste islands, vortexes or the seventh continent.
Plastic: a textile
In recent decades, plastic bottles have been transformed into textiles (polyester) and clothing. What a great initiative, you think? I had the same reflex. I thought it was a great way to reuse and recycle. And then I asked myself: what is the impact on the environment and on human health of wearing clothes made from plastic bottles that are themselves made from petroleum?
Plastics are synthetic polymers that require large quantities of fossil fuels, since they are made from petroleum. What's more, to give them certain characteristics, chemicals are usually added. For example, these chemicals can give plastics greater rigidity or flexibility, as well as color. When plastics are worn, washed or subjected to heat, the petroleum and some of the added chemicals can be released.
Plastic bottles: Polyethylene terephthalate PET
This is the type of plastic numbered 1. This plastic is widely used in the manufacture of non-refillable water bottles and soft-drink bottles. They are among the plastics most likely to cause particles to migrate and reach the respiratory or digestive tracts. Studies on human health have shown respiratory problems, skin irritation, fertility problems and impaired child development.
Like all chemical and toxic substances that pollute the environment, plastic has effects on human health. In Quebec, around 2 out of 3 plastic bottles end up in landfill sites or are simply thrown into the environment. Not only does plastic take between 100 and 1,000 years to degrade, it also gives off methane, a gas considered to be a greenhouse gas, 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2). And if thrown into the environment, plastic can be ingested or injured by animals, and can pollute by degrading in particularly sensitive waterways and wetlands.
If we return to textiles made from recycled plastic bottles, it has been found that microparticles come from the sun's degradation of plastic waste floating on the surface of the sea, but also from our washing water as it comes off our clothes. Microparticles therefore end up in the oceans on a massive scale. This is particularly true of fleece garments woven from recycled plastic bottles. These microparticles would be so fine that they would not be captured by our water purification systems and would end up in the ocean. Thus, by entering the oceans in this form, they are ingested by marine animals and find their way into the food chain.
Once again, there's nothing perfect when it comes to the environment, and the best solution is to reduce the use of natural resources. And when it comes to clothing, while polyester made from recycled bottles remains a great avenue for reuse and recovery, it's better to use natural fibers that haven't been subjected to chemicals.
Here's a relevant article to awaken critical thinking: http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1021817/microplastiques-oceans-billes-plastique-recherche