Watch: Dubai company turns plastic bottles into T-shirts

DGrade recycles up to 60 million plastic bottles monthly to produce around 20,000 T-shirts daily

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Angel Tesorero

Published: Sun 4 Jun 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 4 Jun 2023, 1:05 PM

Did you know that 20 plastic bottles can be repurposed and turned into one adult T-shirt? A Dubai company is doing that, recycling up to 60 million plastic bottles monthly and producing around 20,000 T-shirts daily.

They are on a mission to recycle over 1 billion plastic bottles this year and spun them into polyester yarns that can be used to make T-shirts, dresses, leggings, and other sustainable clothing options.

Speaking to Khaleej Times a day ahead of World Environment Day that falls on June 5, Emma Barber, managing director of Dubai-based DGrade FZ LLC, said manufacturing clothing items with a sustainable twist means less plastic waste ending up in landfills.

The T-shirt made from recycled bottles is also cheaper by 12 to 15 per cent, as compared to conventional polyester shirt. The manufacturing process is definitely eco-friendly as it does not use oil, which is a finite resource. It saves 50 per cent energy, requires 20 per cent less water, and produces 55 per cent fewer carbon emissions compared to virgin polyester yarn.

Advocate for sustainability

Barber has more than 30 years of experience in retail fashion and she’s a long-time advocate for sustainability. Her company, DGrade, produced 185,000 T-shirts for Expo 2020 Dubai, resulting in diverting 3.7 million plastic bottles from landfill.

Her mission is to encourage people to make recycling a habit and her mantra is ‘plastics are made to be recycled’.

She said: “We need to save resources and consume less – recycling supports this need. The UAE has the fourth highest consumption rates of bottled water per person in the world, averaging to 450 bottles per person per year. Around 4 billion plastic bottles are produced in the UAE annually with current recycling rates below 6 per cent.

“In order to protect the environment we need to see real change — starting with our own behaviour. We encourage people to embrace and live by the 3 Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle,” she added as she explained how plastic bottles are turned into T-shirts.

How are products made from recycled plastic bottles?

First, recycled bottles are sorted and stripped of anything that can’t be processed like bottle caps and labels

The plastic bottles are then washed and shredded into plastic flakes before being melted at high pressure, extruded, and spun into a polyester yarn. The yarn can be woven or knitted in the same way as conventional fabric to make T-shirts and other sustainable clothing options.

How long does it take to turn plastic bottles to a finished T-shirt?

The whole process takes around 60 days, from bottle collection to production of T-shirt.

What products can be made from recycled plastics?

The company produces high-quality polyester yarn made from plastic bottles that can be recycled into more than 200 different types of fabric, including jersey, twill, poplin, canvas, quick dry, felt, denim and all types of clothing and accessories such as T-shirts, dress, shirts, trousers, caps, bags, backpacks and many others.


What type of plastic is recycled into yarn?

Polyethylene Terephthalate, known commonly as PET or type 1 plastic, is best known as the clear plastic used for water and soda bottles. As a raw material, PET is globally recognised as a safe, non-toxic, strong, lightweight and flexible that is 100 per cent recyclable. Though clear PET is preferred for the manufacturing process, blue PET plastic can also be used. Bottles have a market value of around Dh750 for 1 metric tonne.

How can I recycle my plastic bottles?

DGrade does not do collection but works with schools, as well as public entities and private companies. Contact details are on the company website.

Why do we still use plastic?

Plastic is safe – it doesn’t shatter like glass, and it’s also hygienic. People not recycling plastic is the problem. They must recycle and repurpose it to make it environmentally sustainable.

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