Bags made from recycled plastic bottles: The Parkland experience

Troy Mapoy
/in /by

Have you ever asked yourself that maybe one day, your future children, grandchildren, and even their kids won’t be able to experience what we have right now? For them not to experience firsthand trekking the greenest forests, climbing up the mountains with trees as shade, and swimming in unpolluted seas, is a horrible thought. I can never imagine living in a place where Mother Nature has turned its back on us.

We’ve come a long way from how our forefathers have lived (just ask your grandparents), most of us having access to a variety of gadgets and gizmos, from simple kitchen organizers to solar charged running jackets, that aim to improve our quality of life. As the saying goes, too much of a good thing is a bad thing — and with everything mankind seeks to accomplish, we can slowly see the “bad things” that are taking a toll on the Earth we live in. But before we get ahead of ourselves and start enumerating the culprits, for now, I just want you to focus on one: plastic. 

Since the invention of synthetic plastics, every industry and every use has been thought of to maximize it. But what we don’t see is what comes after we’ve consumed our takeouts or disposed of the bags that came with our shiny new splurge. According to The Guardian, one million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute — and this figure is bound to jump by 20% in 2021. Science Advances, an online magazine, stated that virtually, every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form. By the rate we’re going, without proper action, the beaches, forests, and maybe even streets your future grandkids will be walking on, may be ridden with plastics. So what do we do about it?

We at Parkland have been driven by the sole purpose of creating greatly-designed products and making it accessible to everyone. In 2018, we have taken our first step in making a change: from manufacturing products made out of normal polyester, we started creating bags made from recycled plastic bottles. Why? Because since we started in 2015, we wanted to do something greater. Something relevant that would also make an impact, or should I say, something that would lessen our impact to the environment. From the products we design to our production processes, we are constantly refining our business and exploring ways we can innovate, and that includes implementing more sustainable fabrics.

Today, all of Parkland’s exterior fabrics are made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. It’s not much different than how a normal bag is made, except for our first step in the process: gathering used plastic bottles. Instead of using raw materials to create our polyester, we recycle plastic bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate, better known as PET (that can be your science fact for the day). These are the plastic bottles used for soft drinks, water, juices, and the like.

Here’s how we do it in five steps: step one is gathering and sorting plastic bottles, and cleaning them at our sorting facility; step two is shredding the bottles into small plastic flakes; step three is melting those plastic flakes into small pellets; step four is threading and weaving, where the pellets are melted again, then extruded and spun into thread to be woven into fabric which will then be dyed; and last is sewing the fabric together to create (what some would consider) the most stylish sustainable bags and accessories known to humankind. Fun fact: it takes approximately 12 plastic bottles to create one Parkland bag. The number of the bottles used depends on the size of the bag. The recycled polyester we use is supplied by our partner in China, who is a global leader in producing recycled fabric and has access to bottles from eight different recycling plants. Our products are then manufactured by our trusted partners in Vietnam.

Other shifts we’ve made in the way we do things include our product labels and packaging. All woven labels featured in all Parkland bags will be made with 100% recycled polyester. Meanwhile, the plastic bags we use as packaging are made from recycled materials, and the cardboard boxes we use for shipping are now made from recycled paper. We have also begun printing all seasonal catalogs on recycled paper.

As we continue to find ways to look good but do even better as a sustainably sound brand, this season ushers in another bold new change for us. Aside from using recycled polyester for our fabric, this  2019, we’re going vegan — our bags, that is. The classic diamond detail on Parkland’s signature backpacks will be replaced by faux leather made entirely from a biodegradable apple by-product called pellemela. Through a unique manufacturing process that combines apple waste, solvent, and polyurethane, pellemela is an animal-friendly, 100% vegan material with properties that are similar to genuine leather. With this new step towards a higher level of sustainability, we believe that we are truly setting an inspiring new standard for the industry.

Now with these big shifts towards a more sustainable business — from using recycled polyester and repurposing apple by-products into leather-like diamonds, to using packaging made from recycled materials — you’re probably thinking the cost of steering clear of the “traditional,” more standard bag-making process might fall onto the products (read: expensive bags). However, Parkland assures you that we will be shouldering the additional manufacturing costs while providing the same value and quality to our customers. This to ensure that our customers are not charged a premium for a more sustainable product, staying true to our values in making well-designed and sustainable products more accessible to everyone.

As a business, our thought process now revolves around these four words: REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE, and RETHINK. We help REDUCE the consumption of consumers since we are creating products that last. People are able to REUSE our products instead of using single-use. We RECYCLE, which means we don’t have to use raw materials to make brand new bags, and through these kinds of products, we enable people to RETHINK what they consume, and maybe even start shifting to sustainable alternatives.

Being part of the solution is very important for Parkland, which is why we made the switch. Personally, this brand has influenced me to be more aware of what’s happening to the environment. To everyone reading this, I want to challenge each one of you to start building new habits. It’s not easy to live a zero-plastic or zero-waste lifestyle, but we need to start somewhere—even if it’s as elementary as throwing your trash in the proper bins. Try to refuse single-use: ditch the straws whenever you order drinks, and bring your own tumbler and refill instead of buying bottled drinks. Use reusable containers for take-out. Bring eco-bags whenever you go shopping.

It takes that one small step to collectively lead us to big changes. We only have one world to live in, so let’s start being more conscious about the way we live in it.

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Troy Mapoy is the brand executive of Parkland, a designer and manufacturer of bags and accessories made from 100% recycled water bottles. The brand aims to inspire others to make sustainable choices by offering products that combine purpose, style, and quality at an accessible price.