MIT Engineers Develop Method of Turning Plastic Bags into Wearable Fabric

MIT Engineers recently developed a method for recycling plastic bags by turning the basic plastic material polyethylene into wearable, self-cooling fabrics.


Polyethylene, the thin and lightweight material used in making plastic wraps and shopping bags, if recycled into wearable textiles can keep the body cool as it lets heat through instead of trapping it in. However, the problem with polyethylene is that it does not wick or evaporate moisture.

That being the case, the MIT engineers devised a way of reversing the anti-wicking property, so that a wearable polyethylene fabric will not lock in sweat and water.

How the MIT Engineers Solved the Anti-Wicking Property of Polyethylene

In order to create wearable fabrics out of polyethylene, the engineers improved the fiber’s wicking ability by making a model of the fibers’ properties. They then aligned the fibers in specific directions and with a particular diameter when spun into silky lightweight yarns. Using an industrial loom, the polyethylene yarn was then woven into fabrics.

The fabric’s ability to soak up and evaporate water was tested, which turned out to be faster, in comparison to ordinary textiles like polyester, cotton, and nylon.

Initially, the testings showed that through frequent soaking, the polyethylene fabric loses its wicking ability overtime. The MIT engineers easily solved the problem by exposing the fabric to UV light and by applying friction. According to Svetlana Boriskina, a research scientist in MIT’s Dept. of Mechanical Engineering, the wicking ability of the material can be refreshed and maintained by simply rubbing the fabric to create friction.

Scientists at the MIT’s Dept. of Mechanical Engineering, hope that in the future the adoption of polyethylene fabrics would encourage recycling of plastic bags and other products that contain polyethylene. According to Ms. Boriskina, instead of throwing plastic bags into the ocean, it can be easily recycled into a fabric for making something wearable like a hoodie or a sneaker. If so, plastic bags will the have more economic value to people.