Among material scientists, materials that could become fabrics of the future have always gathered their attention. However, polyethylene – a widely available option was largely dismissed.
Polyethylene is thin and lightweight – the material that finds use in plastic wrap and grocery bags. Interestingly, polyethylene can provide higher coolness to the wearer than most textiles because it lets heat to pass rather than trap it. However, on the downside, polyethylene also locks in sweat and water as it is unable to discharge and evaporate moisture. For this repelling property, polyethylene has been a major deterrent for use as a wearable textile.
In a new development for the use of polyethylene, MIT engineers have spun it into fibers and yarns designed to repel moisture. The polyethylene yarn then worn into silky, lightweight textiles that could absorb and evaporate water more quickly than common textiles such as nylon, cotton, and polyester.
Besides this, the material scientists also calculated the ecological footprint of polyethylene if it were manufactured and used as a textile. Contrary to most assumptions, the scientists estimate that polyethylene fabrics may lower environmental impact over other textiles such as nylon and cotton over their life cycle.
Taking a cue from this, the researchers hope that fabrics made of polyethylene could serve a large environmental purpose. This could incentivize recycling of plastic bags and other polyethylene products into wearable textiles, thereby adding sustainability of the material.
In fact, if a plastic bag is thrown in the ocean it’s a problem. But if those bags could easily be recycled, polyethylene could be made into a hoodie or a sneaker, to make so much sense to collect the bags and recycle them.