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Plastic Bottles into Recycled Chiffon Hijabs – An Interview with Waste2Wear
Apr 28, 2021
Dilshad Ali
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Image source: Haute Hijab
Dilshad Ali
Plastic consumption and waste has been a huge threat to the environment over all but especially so in clogging our oceans and waterways. Upwards of 100 million marine animals die each year from plastic waste alone, and 100,000 marine animals die from getting entangled in plastic yearly. It is estimated that eight million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year (that means one ton every four seconds).
In our ongoing journey to bring you more sustainably-produced hijabs as well as choosing ethical and environmentally-conscious companies to partner with in this work, one of our goals has been to take our existing product lines and figure out how to create them in a more eco-friendly way. And so, when we began researching textile manufactures who could help us create a chiffon hijab that is easier on the environment, Waste2Wear quickly became the one with whom we partnered.
Because, what if there was a way you could help reduce the amount of plastic bottles that eventually make their way into the ocean? What if you could affect waves of change through the kind of hijab you wear? Waste2Wear, which creates innovative products through recycled plastics, has helped us to do that with our latest collection, Recycled Chiffon Hijabs.
Waste2Wear was established in China by Dutch textile engineer Monique Maissan with the purpose of producing “high quality garments in a responsible way.” The company has been producing fabrics and textile products from plastic bottles since 2008 and creates textiles through a block chain system guaranteeing that it is made from plastic waste. Waste2Wear has offices in nine countries around the world, including India, which is where Haute Hijab’s partnership with the company has grown.
I spoke with Ruma Kinger, the Managing Director of the Waste2Wear’s India office, Meenakshi Ahluwalia, former Managing Director (she has recently transitioned out) and Orla Govarts, Waste2Wear’s communications manager, about the company’s commitment to recycling plastics, how chiffon hijabs are created from plastic bottles and how wearing hijabs made out of recycled plastic versus those derived from natural fibers are two sides of the same coin.
Image source: Waste2Wear
Tell me a bit about the work the Waste2Wear production plant does in India? What processes and textiles do you work on there?
Meenakshi: [We map] a complete supply chain, which starts from bottles that waste management companies collect, which goes to the next step of making flakes when we cut bottles into pieces. Flakes are then converted into yarns at different locations. From yarn we make fabrics, again at a different location. After fabrics [are made], it comes to a manufacturing factory, where it is converted into hijabs (and other products for different clients). We have five locations of factories across India (as well as offices and factories in other countries). Production locations are all in India or in China.
Ruma: [Here in India we have] two fabric technicians, a logistics guy, a merchandiser and someone who does quality assurance (QA). [We are also in] collaboration with third parties, who conduct inspections of our work. When we have orders going on with a particular mill, we have fabric technicians going and visiting them and working them to ensure the functions and processes are being followed. They visit the mills, and the waste management companies [we work with] to ensure the supply chain is being followed.
So how does it work - the process of collecting plastic bottles and turning them into hijabs?
Meenakshi: It starts from the collection of waste bottles that have been thrown by users in different areas. These bottles are cleaned, wrappers are removed, and we remove the caps because the cap is a different quality of plastic. The impurities are taken away by washing and cleaning the bottles. These washed bottles are sent into machines where they are cut into pieces [that] we call flakes. Depending on what kind of a yarn quality we are making, [these flakes] go straight into making yarns. Sometimes the flakes are converted into fiber and then into yarns.
[Sometimes] R-PET (which stands for Recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate or Recycled Polyester, also known as Recycled PET) fiber and cotton fiber are blended together to make the yarns, say for a T-shirt or other products. To make blends we have to do it at the fiber stage. With Haute Hijab, it is 100 percent pure R-PET recycled fabric.
These yarns are taken by the fabric weaving factory, and they weave them into finer fabrics, like the recycled chiffon fabric for Haute Hijabs. Then they go to get dyed. And then once these fabrics are ready, they are checked and inspected and come to the manufacturing location where they are cut, and the tailors make them into hijabs.
Image source: Waste2Wear
How many bottles does it take to make one hijab?
Ruma: For a rectangle scarf, it takes seven bottles because in two meters [of fabric] we are making two scarves. For a square scarf it takes eight bottles; with square scarfs the fabric consumption is more because of the shape of the scarf.
Where are the bottles recycled from?
Orla: All of our bottles are pre-landfill. We don’t take them from the landfill so that they are in better condition. If they reach the landfill, it’s much harder to get it cleaned enough to be able to be recyclable for textiles.
We have contractors to get the bottles. We do this in China with ocean plastic collectors. For example, there are collectors who cull bottles from the Yangtze River, pre-ocean (before it reaches the ocean). Collectors who go to highly polluted areas to collect them. They collect them from [up to] 500 meters from the [river or ocean] shoreline.
Ruma: For the ocean bottles, we have collaborated with ex-fishermen and people who collect them for us. For pre-landfill, we have waste management companies who [manually] collect these bottles from households, restaurants and roadsides.
Orla: One client in the Chinese office, a flooring company, they alone have used four million plastic bottles just for floor underlays in the past couple of years. [From the recycled plastic], we also make functional bags, fashion bags, plush toys, curtains, furniture, fabrics and now hijabs.
How are outside quality-assurance contractors helping to assure the process adheres to national and international standards for sustainability and ethical practices?
Meenakshi: All of our supply chains and block chains are certified [by organizations that work to regulate and ensure various sustainability practices and ethical working conditions are adhered to]. We ensure that [our supply chains and block chains also] follow international norms. [We also have certification] to make sure factors are clean and workers are paid fairly. For social compliance (factory and safety conditions), we use SA-8000, BSCI and Sedex.
[For the transparency in the sustainability of our processes, we use] OEKO-TEX. Our dying mills and manufacturing mills are certified this way. We make sure they are all certified, that the basic parameters are taking care of with these certifications.
For the recycling part of it, [we use] GRS, or Global Recycling Standard. Certain buyers, they demand other certifications, [which we provide on a case-by-case basis].
Recycled Chiffon Hijab (Sage)
Our recycled chiffon hijabs are made from 7 - 8 recycled plastic bottles to help reduce our carbon footprint while giving you the same sleek, polished look that's as light, crisp, and easy to care for as our signature chiffons you know and love. Each recycled chiffon comes with its own QR code explaining the origin of the waste, the environmental report of production, and how it is made.
There is a lot of consumer discussion in the sustainability fashion world about wearing products made from natural, organic materials harvested more sustainably that are better against our skin and for the environment versus fabric made from plastics, which help reduce plastics in our environment, and wearing that against our skin. What is better? Are both good? What are the advantages of the latter over the former?
Meenakshi: I think everyone has their own mindset [about this]. Of course natural fabrics are very good. And everybody would like to use that, but at the same time when people [say] they don’t want to wear plastic, I personally feel they don’t have all the knowledge about it. If you look at our plastic fabric, it’s superior quality. It’s not like a regular polyester fabric.
If people are wearing polyester and converting to recycled polyester, of course it’s better for the environment. And it is [generally] safe to wear, but people will have to make that decision for themselves based on their own preferences.
What about microplastics? Because these Recycled Chiffon Hijabs are made from plastics, will they be releasing microplastics into the environment when washed?
Orla: Microplastics are a big discussion, and a lot of research is being done on this. Some important points to note:
1. All fabrics shed microfiber. Actually, a main factor for [microplastics being] around in the environment is the coloring of fabrics [as well as other factors]. So cotton, which in a natural state would decompose, can be around as microfiber with chemicals [from how it may have been processed] for a long time. One paper reports, “across 223 samples, natural textile fibers represented 93.8 percent of the textile fiber population quantified. Extruded (synthetic) textile fibers were absent from 82.8 percent of samples, natural textile fibers were absent from just 9.7 percent of samples (Stanton et al., 2019)
2. There are many articles and claims about microplastics and a lot of research with unclear conclusions. There is one widespread claim that polyester from clothing is a main contributor to microplastics in the ocean, but several new reports on this show that this is not the case. Car tires are by far the largest source.
3. The main way of reducing shedding from clothes is to wash them the right way: [Do] not wash if not necessary, fill the machine [don’t just wash a few hijabs], do not use the top fed machine, use liquid and not powder etc. (Editorial note: another option is to purchase a laundry wash bag, like this one, in which you put your hijabs to wash with help in the reduction of the shedding of microfibers and microplastics.)
3. [The fact of the matter is that] polyester accounts for around half of the global fabric supply. It will always be in demand because it provides stretch plus the sheer volume [that can] not be replaced by cotton or other natural fabrics. Our biggest concern is to eradicate virgin polyester and replace it with recycled polyester. That way we know we are making enormous environmental savings. In the case of Waste2Wear, you already know that we use 70 percent less energy, 75 percent less CO2 and 86 percent less water than non-recycled fabrics. The beauty of RPET is giving a second life to plastic bottles that are destined to rot for hundreds of years in landfills or the oceans.
For more information about Waste2Wear, visit their website! Check our Recycled Chiffon Hijabs here, and learn more about the science and tech behind these hijabs here! Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.
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