A new textile produced by US researchers from polyethylene – the simplest and cheapest of all polymers – shows superior cooling properties to cotton or linen, is more stain resistant than polyester, is easily recyclable and can potentially be made from recycled materials. The researchers believe it could, therefore, contribute significantly both to cut the ecological footprint of the fashion industry and reduce the world’s plastic waste mountain.
The textile industry has a huge carbon footprint with the 56 million tonnes of fabrics it produces every year responsible for 5–10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The industry once depended entirely on natural fibres such as cotton, linen and wool, but in the past century synthetic polymers such as polyester and nylon have become increasingly widespread. Polyethylene, however, has been largely overlooked.