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Tybee Treasures:
A Look into Recycled Textile Printing

One of the ugliest forms of pollution is litter. Unfortunately, the ocean and its inhabitants are victims when it comes to plastics, oil, and other forms of pollution. The Great Pacific Garbage patch is a massive vortex of trash that floats in the Pacific. As of 2020, it is 1.6 million square kilometers, which is twice the size of Texas (1). Despite this being in the Pacific, Tybee Island and all other parts of the east coast are no stranger to plastic and oil pollution. In 2007, 5,400 lbs of plastic were collected during a beach sweep at Tybee Island (3). Much of the plastic that is found comes in the form of microplastics. These microplastics are arguably more dangerous than the larger plastics because they are harder to collect, and find their way into fish, which are an essential part of the food chain for all marine animals. Fortunately, we have found a way to deconstruct plastic and turn it into a recycled polyester.

With this in mind, I created a hand painted toile depicting the beauty of the lowcountry and Tybee Island, and the flora and fauna that are effected by plastic pollution. From there, I printed it on recycled polyester and sewed a beach bag/reusable grocery bag. This bag would be an educational tool to convince and help tourists and common people use less single-use plastics. This print could also be printed on metal water bottles, reusable bags for bamboo silverware, wallpaper, and even transparent tupperware. These could be potentially used at the Tybee Island Visitor Center or the Tybee Island Marine Science Center.

Here are some of my sketchbook pages. Included are my notes, thumbnails, silhouette ideation, and gouache motifs.

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This is my color board. I was inspired by Impressionist painters, toiles, and bright and lively colors. 

Here is my concept board. I wanted to highlight the beautiful creatures of Tybee Island. I also wanted my medium to be 100% painted in gouache, as opposed to the traditional line qualities of toiles. 

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Recycled Polyester v.s. Natural Fibers


The first question that ran through my mind when starting this project was “Which is less harmful to the environment: recycled polyester or natural fibers like cotton?” To start my project, I would have liked to base my fabric choice around this question. Of course, the answer is not black-and-white. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of both.

Recycled polyester is made from plastic which is collected from the dump. The plastic is then shredded into flakes by machines. These machines can be run on renewable energy. The flakes are melted into pellets, which are then melted into ultra thin strands and spun into a yarn. For reference, it takes nine water bottles to make one t-shirt (2).

Water use  for both materials varies drastically. To make one cotton tee shirt, you would need 700 gallons of freshwater. Alternatively, it takes just 0.6 gallons to make a recycled polyester t-shirt. Furthermore, cotton growth takes up 2.4% of arable land. It requires 24% of all worldwide pesticide use, and 11% of all agricultural water usage (4).

When it comes to the quality of the fabric, there are also notable differences. Natural fibers can be made to be soft and delicate. It may be hard to replicate this texture in recycled polyester, which are often more durable, resistant to abrasion, and even more waterproof (5).

Clearly, there are huge differences between natural fibers and recycled polyester. When choosing which material to print on for this project, I opted for recycled polyester over linen. To make it even better, this company prints using only water-based inks. One downside is that they print in 200dpi, so the quality was not as crisp as it would have been on linen. Regardless, the point in me doing this project was to emphasize how plastic pollution is terrible for our oceans and beaches, so it only made sense to stick to a recycled polyester fabric.

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When I sent the print to the printing company, I sent a fully repeating print. However, this was not the only way it could've been sent. Say I wanted to waste less of the fabric, I could have engineered the pattern so that there would've been less cutting and more of the fabric could have been used. 

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Here are some process shots. The bag was quite easy to construct and I'm happy with the quality. 














Below is the final product. This was a great experience getting to know recycled polyester. I truly believe the future of fashion and textiles lie in recyclability and circularity, 

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Here are my texture maps. I included walls of the Tybee Marine Science Center as well as a reusable metal water bottle. Since the original unit was 27" by 27", it was fun to see this print scaled down.


Annotated Bibliography

“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” The Ocean Cleanup, 10 June 2021,

This article gave great factual evidence of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and why environmental phenomenon and human activity led to its creation. It goes over the types of plastic and waste that accumulated in the garbage patch as well as the effects of the pollution on marine and human life. The article was written by the organization The Ocean Cleanup, and this organization did a research studies on this garbage patch. The article goes into how they conducted each study. Overall, it was an in-depth study into how human waste congregates in the ocean and harms wildlife.


Daisy. “How to Make Fabric from Recycled Plastic Bottles.” Toad&Co, Toad&Co, 29 Mar. 2019,

This was a wonderful and insightful webpage about the process and benefits of recycled polyester. This is something I was always curious about, because it was so hard for me to think about how something so hard and brittle like plastic could be turned into a soft, malleable fabric. The author went step by step on how a plastic bottle from the dump turns into a woven or knit piece of cloth. Included are also videos of the process and links to other websites that break down the chemical process of melting these plastics in to cloth. As textile designers, it's important that we look toward all recycled fabrics in our work, as it is less pollutive than any virgin material we could produce.


“Plastics Pollution a Widespread Problem on the Georgia Coast.” Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, University of Georgia, 25 Apr. 2017,

This was a local news article about pollution on the Georgia Coast, and specifically near Tybee Island. It was important for me to gain insight into how much waste we deal with at Tybee, because my project was about how plastic pollution makes our beaches uglier and less hospitable for wildlife. The article talked about how different local ocean cleanup groups worked together to do research studies and collaborate on solutions.


“The Ecological Effects of Cotton vs. Recycled Polyester.” Last Bottle Clothing, 17 Feb. 2017,

In this brief article, the author talks about the main differences between cotton and recycled polyester. There is a huge difference in the amount of freshwater usage for cotton, which uses 700 gallons to make a single t-shirt. In our world with our ever-depleting supply of freshwater, we must work towards being responsible with our usage and opt for less water-intensive fabric creation. Recycled polyester is a great start because you kill two birds with one stone: you take plastic garbage out of the environment and create a durable, multi-use fabric out of it, saving water, energy, and environmental pollution.


Tran-Van, Lara. “Recycled PET Benefits, Production And Applications | Towards A Greener Textile Industry.” Metissages Limited, 16 Oct. 2020,

In this thorough and honest article, we learn the ecological differences between RPET (recycled polyester), virgin polyester, and cotton. Overall, RPET is better for the environment. With that said, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that it is a more expensive process. Furthermore, we must hold accountable the companies that claim to use recycled polyester. These companies need real traceability as well as making sure they are ethical in their factories and supply chains. It’s a long road ahead for recycled fabrics but one that is ultimately greener and better for our world.

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