The Life Cycle of Plastic: How Does it End Up in Our Bikinis?
Beach Bums & Feels
Ever wondered how Beach Bums and Feels’ Swimwear Collection is made? Look no further, as we explain the full lifecycle of our recycled plastic bikinis!
What is Plastic?
Plastic is a man-made (synthetic) polymer, which is derived from the Greek words “poly” and “meros”, meaning “many” and “parts” respectively. They are made from various raw materials, including oil and natural gas. The end product is capable of being moulded, cast into shapes, and drawn into filaments for use as textile fibres. There are lots of different types of plastic, with differing properties and uses in modern-day life. The example we will focus on here is nylon, since that is what we use to make our bikinis!
What is Plastic Nylon and How is it Made?
Nylon is a family of synthetic polymers and is frequently used to create textiles, such as swimwear, clothing, carpets, and upholstery. This form of plastic gained popularity during the Second World War, due to its suitability as a material for parachutes, tents, and ropes.
Nylon fibres are entirely synthetic, so they have no basis in organic material. Diamine acid (a monomer/chemical building block that is extracted from crude oil) is combined with adipic acid (another monomer) by the process of polymerisation. Water is produced and removed as a byproduct. The long-chained polymer is then heated, extruded, drawn, and spun into fibres, known as virgin nylon, which can be used to create textiles. Nylon is a very flexible plastic!
How Does Plastic Nylon End Up in the Ocean?
Like many plastics, nylon doesn’t break down very easily. Many textiles are thrown away without a second thought and end up in landfill, where they take up valuable space and become compressed amongst layers of other waste.
Once rainwater washes through the layers, the water absorbs water-soluble compounds that are often toxic. These join a collection of other compounds to create a landfill stew, known as leachate, which goes on to pollute groundwater, soil, and waterways, causing damage to surrounding ecosystems, poisoning wildlife and running off to pollute the ocean.
Plastic also ends up in the ocean when it is carried downstream along waterways or lost overboard whilst waste is being shipped to other countries.
Many people know that textiles can often be recycled, so some nylon fabrics end up in recycling bins! Unfortunately, only 30% of plastic ever produced is still in use today and only 9% of plastics that we dispose of are recycled. Even if plastics are placed in a recycling bin, they don’t always end up being recycled at all. Most of the plastic waste is shipped abroad and you know what they say - out of sight, out of mind!
One of the reasons that prevent plastics from being recycled properly is due to incorrect disposal by the consumer. Luckily, if the correct procedures are followed throughout the lifecycle of plastic (from manufacturer to consumer and finally the recycling waste industry), then the outlook is much more sustainable! Read on to find out more.
Illegal Dumping of Fishing Gear
Approximately 10% of the debris in the ocean is nylon, which includes 640,000 tons of fishing gear. The most common cause of this is due to the improper disposal of nets by fisherman, who would otherwise have to pay to get rid of them.
What Happens to the Nylon in the Ocean?
This is where things get nasty! Once dumped in the ocean, ghost fishing nets can float around the ocean trapping and killing animals which, in turn, attracts predators that also fall victim to the nets. What’s more, plastic is often sucked into a vortex, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where it remains as a hugely polluting soup.
The areas in which the waste collects are known as gyres, which are swirls of calm water caused by circular ocean currents. There are five big ones on the planet, each being thousands of miles across. Trash gathers here and even collects below the surface in columns that go very deep.
But it’s not all doom and gloom! If you’ve read our article on How to Protect the Ocean With ECONYL Sustainable Swimwear, then you will know about some of the fantastic organisations that are working on cleaning up the plastic pollution in the ocean. Projects such as NetWorks and Healthy Seas are recovering fishing nets and working alongside fishermen to educate them about the dangers of dumping plastic waste into the sea. Discarded nets are collected, aggregated, and cleaned, before being bought by companies such as Aquafil.
How Does Waste Plastic Nylon End Up in Our Bikinis?
Remember Rumplestiltskin and how he could turn straw into gold? Well, Aquafil is like him...except for the tricksy and evil part! They can turn waste nylon into ECONYL - a raw material that has 100% of the quality of virgin nylon. This process not only gets rid of the plastic in the ocean, but it also takes far less energy and resources (e.g. crude oil) than creating virgin nylon from scratch.
Read our previous blog to find out more about how Aquafil is saving our ocean with its ECONYL fabric
The end result is recycled nylon fibres known as ECONYL, which we use in our Beach Bums and Feels Sustainable Swimwear!
How to Recycle Beach Bums and Feels Bikinis Properly?
First of all, we would like to recommend finding ways to upcycle or repurpose your swimwear once you have finished enjoying it - in the spirit of sustainability and saving energy. However, if you have decided to recycle your bikini, then Trash is for Tossers is a fantastic resource with plenty of suggestions on sustainable resources and recycling organisations.