Plastic bottles are crushed, chopped into fine flakes, melted, stirred and then extruded through devices that make thin, polyester strands that go into making fleece clothing. Fibers in the strands are then stretched, crimped and baled to be sent to clothing manufacturers. The reason this process works is that certain plastic bottles have the same chemical makeup as polyester.
The trick to producing polyester fibers from plastic bottles is to use polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. This type of plastic is found in soda bottles, but the polymer also forms the basis for synthetic polyester. Plastic bottles are picked up from recycling centers, processed and then sorted by colors. The plastic is then sterilized and chopped before being melted into a thick liquid in large vats. This thick liquid forms the basis for new fibers woven into fleece garments. Chemicals such as ethylene glycol, terephthalic acid and an antimony catalyst are used at high temperatures in a vacuum to achieve stronger fibers.
The new fleece fibers have the potential to keep nearly three billion plastic bottles out of landfills, save 500,000 barrels of oil and eliminate 400,000 tons of atmospheric carbon each year. Patagonia states the clothing itself can be recycled and made into new products. These polyester fibers go into clothing, carpet, ropes, hoses, curtains and towels.