Turning plastics into clothing

In the UK we throw away billions of plastic bottles every year. We’re getting much better at recycling them, but did you know that they can also be turned into clothing? This amazing process starts here at the bottle recycling center.

The first stage is shredding. When you throw away your bottle you often leave a small amount of drink inside. Shredding all the bottles releases the unwanted liquid, so it doesn’t affect the quality of the plastic. The shredded bottles are then wrapped in cellophane and boxed up ready to be shipped around the world. It may be rubbish to us, but to the Chinese textile industry, this plastic waste is a valuable commodity. Recycled bottles arrived from all over the world to feed the busy clothing industry. Sorting separates the clear plastic from the coloured stuff.

Clear plastic can be made into white clothes or material that can be dyed so it’s extremely valuable. Most clear plastic bottles have coloured lids and stickers on them but these have got to go, so the bottles head for the baths.

The coloured curves are made of a different plastic which floats. A worker can then strain them off the top. Then there’s a separate bath for the stickers, but the workers have to be careful around this one. It’s corrosive caustic soda is very bad for the skin but very good for removing labels.

After all they’re swimming what’s left is a pile of clear plastic shreds. The next step is the ovens, where it’s mixed with some light colored plastics. To produce white cloth you need some light shaded material. In the mix, the plastic will spend about 10 hours here in rotating drums, slowly drying out. Workers have to manoeuvre their cart back and forth underneath the drums to catch the plastic as it falls out, but they’ve also got to mind their heads on all the other spinning ovens.

The plastic bottles broken down and mixed to produce the right colours. But it’s very hard to weave cloth from bits and pieces so another step is needed. The mixture is sent through the rotating screw where it’s heated to 270 degrees Celsius. This melds the plastic but to make cloth, we don’t want a big lump. The liquid plastic is forced through a sieve and emerges on the other side as great long strings, which are collected in a container below. We’ve now got thread but it isn’t strong enough to make cloth yet.

First it must be combined and stretched several times while being heated. This will bond the fibers together. Now it’s taken ages to produce this material but the next part of the process is to tear it apart again. The fluff that emerges is the raw substance you need to make polyester. However that takes place in another factory altogether, so workers bail it up and send it on. It looks like cotton wool but it’s an entirely man-made substance created from your old bottles. It is then scraped onto a very rough cloth ready to be carded. Carding is where the bonded fibers are brushed together so they all lie in a similar direction, which strengthens the material. The sheet of polyester felt that emerges is now ready to be turned into thread. Machines will tease it out, spinning off mile after mile of pure polyester, which is collected on bobbins. Finally plastic bottles become cloth like a spider at the center of its web.

The loom draws in thousands of threads and weaves a new sheet of polyester to give it a smoother feel.

There are still two more processes to go through. The first is very delicate. One machine creates tiny loops on its surface. The second stage is the opposite. Using a series of tough steel brushes, spinning rollers catch and tear all the carefully made loops. The shredded surface helps give the material a soft furry feel, making it far more comfortable to the touch.

Material stylus is used to mark out the latest designs. The pieces will then be sent to workers who turn your trash into the trendiest gear you can find on the high street. So what started out as your rubbish was carefully sorted then shredded and turned into cloth. That cloth was shredded into fluff, spun into thread and turned into fashion from plastic bottles to polyester clothing.

Just how exactly was the the Universe created again?

In 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story asking: “Is God Dead?” The cover reflected the fact that many people had accepted the cultural narrative that God is obsolete — that, as science progresses there is less need for a “God” to explain the universe. It turns out, though, that the rumors of God’s death were premature. In fact, perhaps the best arguments for his existence come from — of all places — science itself.

Here’s the story: The same year Time featured its now-famous headline, the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two necessary criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion planets in the universe — that’s 1 followed by 24 zeros — there should have been about septillion planets — that’s 1 followed by 21 zeros — capable of supporting life. With such spectacular odds, scientists were optimistic that the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, known by its initials, SETI, an ambitious project launched in the 1960’s, was sure to turn up something soon.

With a vast radio telescopic network, scientists listened for signals that resembled coded intelligence. But as the years passed, the silence from the universe was deafening.

As of 2014, researchers have discovered precisely bubkis, nada, zilch, which is to say zero followed by an infinite number of zeros. What happened? As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were, in fact, far more factors necessary for life — let alone intelligent life — than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10, then 20, and then 50, which meant that the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting. Even SETI proponents acknowledged the problem. Peter Schenkel wrote in a 2006 piece for Skeptical Inquirer, a magazine that strongly affirms atheism: “In light of new findings and insights . . . . We should quietly admit that the early estimates . . . may no longer be tenable.”

Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life — every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. For example, without a massive, gravity-rich planet like Jupiter nearby to draw away asteroids, Earth would be more like an interstellar dartboard than the verdant orb that it is. Simply put, the odds against life in the universe are astonishing. Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfectly met by accident?

At what point is it fair to admit that it is science itself that suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions in fact require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds?

But wait, there’s more. The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces — gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces — were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one of these four values ever so slightly and the universe as we know it could not exist.

For instance, if the ratio between the strong nuclear force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest, inconceivable fraction then no stars could have formed at all. Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row. I don’t think so.

Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term “big bang,” said that his atheism was “greatly shaken” by these developments. One of the world’s most renowned theoretical physicists, Paul Davies, has said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming”. Even the late Christopher Hitchens, one of atheism’s most aggressive proponents, conceded that “without question the fine-tuning argument was the most powerful argument of the other side.” Oxford University professor of Mathematics Dr. John Lennox has said “the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator . . . gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.”

The greatest miracle of all time is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles, one that inescapably points to something — or Someone — beyond itself.

About Sneakers

With an estimated worth of over one billion dollars the sneaker resale market is at an all-time high.
Flight Club is one of the sneaker consignment industry’s biggest players with two brick-and-mortar locations plus an online marketplace. This spot is sneaker heaven! Flight Club has locations in New York and Los Angeles. Their NYC store has over 20,000 unique styles and over 40,000 pairs in stock overall.

As a consignment business, anyone can sell their secondhand sneakers through Flight Club’s platform. Flight Club authenticates the pair then resells them at market value. Prices are determined by factors like rarity, size, availability and overall condition. Once a pair of sneakers sells, Flight Club takes a commission then sends the remaining profits to the original seller.

When it comes to buying, people want to buy with them because they have the best to offer. And when it comes to selling, they have the most liquid platform so people love to sell with them. If you can’t find it there then the sneaker doesn’t exist!
Work cultures have changed and you’re now comfortable wearing sneakers to the office as opposed to our hard bottoms. It’s now more so a style and a fashion statement, and a comfort thing too as far as things like how we wear our shoes, and where we wear our shoes. People are typically more open now.

The rise of celebrity endorsements has also helped change the game. You have Michael Jordan behind Jordan’s, and all of these people are icons in their own right and help push that forward. Whatever the reason, the ways in which we buy and use sneakers have undoubtedly changed. And in this new era of sneaker consumption, stores aren’t just selling a shoe they’re selling a story. If you look at them there’s a story to go with them whether it be who wore them, and why it’s coloured a certain way. If you put on a pair of these sneakers you feel like you are living the story behind the sneaker.

What do your sneakers reveal about you?

The science behind the common can

Every year nearly a half trillion of cans are manufactured—that’s about 15,000 per second — so many that we overlook the can’s superb engineering.
Let’s start with why the can is shaped like it is. Why a cylinder? An engineer might like to make a spherical can: it has the smallest surface area for a given volume and so it uses the least amount of material. And it also has no corners and so no weak points because the pressure in the can uniformly stresses the walls.

But a sphere is not practical to manufacture. And, of course, it’ll roll off the table. Also, when packed as closely as possible only 74% of the total volume is taken up by the product. The other 26% is void space, which goes unused when transporting the cans or in a store display.

An engineer could solve this problem by making a cuboid-shaped can. It sits on a table, but it’s uncomfortable to hold and awkward to drink from. And while easier to manufacture than a sphere, these edges are weak points and require very thick walls.
But the cuboid surpasses the sphere in packing efficiently: it has almost no wasted space, although at the sacrifice of using more surface area to contain the same volume as the sphere.

So, to create a can engineers use a cylinder, which has elements of both shapes. From the top, it’s like a sphere, and from the side, it’s like a cuboid. A cylinder has a maximum packing factor of about 91% — not as good as the cuboid, but better than the sphere. Most important of all: the cylinder can be rapidly manufactured.

The can begins as this disk —called a “blank”— punched from an aluminum sheet about three-tenths of a mm thick. The first step starts with a “drawing die,” on which sits the blank and then a “blank holder” that rests on top. A cylindrical punch presses down on the die, forming the blank into a cup. This process is called “drawing.” The cup is about 88 mm in diameter—larger than the final can — so it’s re-drawn. That process starts with this wide cup, and uses another cylindrical punch, and a “redrawing die.” The punch presses the cup through the redrawing die and transforms it into a cup with a narrower diameter, which is a bit taller. This redrawn cup is now the final diameter of the can—65 mm—but it’s not yet tall enough. A punch pushes this redrawn cup through an ironing ring. The cup stays the same diameter, as it becomes taller and the walls thinner.

You we watch this process again up close, you see the initial thick wall, and then the thinner wall after it’s ironed. Ironing occurs in three stages, each progressively making the walls thinner and the can taller. After the cup is ironed, the dome on the bottom is formed. This requires a convex doming tool and a punch with a matching concave indentation. As the punch presses the cup downward onto the doming tool: the cup bottom then deforms into a dome. That dome reduces the amount of metal needed to manufacture the can. The dome bottom uses less material than if the bottom were flat.

A dome is an arch, revolved around its center. The curvature of the arch distributes some of the vertical load into horizontal forces, allowing a dome to withstand greater pressure than a flat beam. On the dome you might notice two large numbers.
The debossed numbers are engraved on the doming tool. The first number signifies the production line in the factory, and the second number signifies the bodymaker number — the bodymaker is the machine that performs the redrawing, ironing and doming processes. These numbers help troubleshoot production problems in the factory.

In that factory the manufacturing of a can takes place at a tremendous rate: these last three steps— re-drawing, ironing and doming—all happen in one continuous stroke and in only a seventh of a second. The punch moves at a maximum velocity of 11 meters per second and experiences a maximum acceleration of 45 Gs. This process runs continuously for 6 months or around 100 million cycles before the machine needs servicing. Now, if you look closely at the top of the can body, you see that the edges are wavy and uneven. These irregularities occur during the forming.

To get a nice even edge, about 6 mm is trimmed off of the top. With an even top the can can now be sealed. But before that sealing occurs a colorful design is printed on the outside—the term of art in the industry is “decoration.”

The inside also gets a treatment: a spray-coated epoxy lacquer separates the can’s contents from its aluminum walls. This prevents the drink from acquiring a metallic taste, and also keeps acids in the beverage from dissolving the aluminium.

The next step forms the can’s neck — the part of the can body that tapers inward. This “necking” requires eleven-stages. The forming starts with a straight-walled can. The top is brought slightly inward. And then this is repeated further up the can wall until the final diameter is reached. The change in neck size at each stage is so subtle that you can barely tell a difference between one stage and the next. Each one of these stages works by inserting an inner die into the can body, then pushing an outer die—called the necking sleeve—around the outside. The necking sleeve retracts, the inner die retracts, and the can moves to the next stage.

The necking is drawn out over many different stages to prevent wrinkling, or pleating, of the thin aluminum. Since the 1960’s, the diameter of the can end has become smaller by 6 mm — from 60 mm to 54 mm today. This seems a tiny amount, but the aluminum can industry produces over 100 billion cans a year, so that 6 mm reduction saves at least 90 million kilograms of aluminum annually. That amount would form a solid cube of aluminum 32 meters on a side—compare that to a 787 dreamliner with a 60 meter wingspan.

When the neck has been formed the top is flanged; that is, it flares out slightly and allows the end to be secured to the body, which brings us to the next brilliant design feature: the double seam. On older steel cans manufactures welded or soldered on the ends. This often contaminated the can’s contents. In contrast, today’s cans use a hygienic “double seam,” which can also be made faster. This can is cut in half so you can see the cross-section of the double seam.

To create this seam, a machine uses two basic operations. The first curls the end of the can cover around the flange of the can body. The second operation presses the folds of metal together to form an air-tight seal. While the operations themselves are simple, they require high precision. Parts misaligned by a small fraction of a millimeter cause the seam to fail. In addition to the clamping of the end and can body, a sealing compound ensures that no gas escapes through the double seam. The compound is applied as a liquid, then hardens to a form a gasket. The end, attached immediately after the cans is filled, traps gases inside the can to create pressures of about 30 psi or 2 times atmospheric pressure. In soda, carbon dioxide produces the pressure; in non-carbonated drinks, like juices, nitrogen is added.

So why is a beverage can pressurized? Because the internal pressure creates a strong can despite its thin walls. Squeeze a closed, pressurized can—it barely gives. Then squeeze an empty can—it flexes easily. The cans walls are thin—only 75 microns thick—and they are flimsy, but the internal pressure of a sealed can pushes outwards equally, and so keeps the wall in tension. This tension is key: the thin wall acts like a chain — in compression it has no strength, but in tension it’s very strong.

The internal pressure strengthens the cans so that they can be safely stacked —a pressurized can easily supports the weight of an average human adult. It also adds enough strength so that the can doesn’t need the corrugations like in this unpressurized steel food can. While initially pressurized to about 2 atmospheres, a can may experience up to 4 atmospheres of internal pressure in its lifetime due to elevated temperatures; and so the can is designed to withstand up to 6 atmospheres or 90 psi before the dome or the end will buckle.

Why is there a tab on the end of the can? It seems a silly question—how else would you open it? But originally cans didn’t have tabs. Very early steel cans were called flat tops, for pretty obvious reasons. You use a special opener to puncture a hole to drink from, and a hole to vent. In the 1960’s, the pull-tab was invented so that no opener was needed. The tab worked like this: you lift up this ring to vent the can, and pull the tab to create the opening. Easy enough, but now you’ve got this loose tab. The cans ask you to “Please don’t litter” but sadly, these pull tabs got tossed on the ground, where the sharp edges of the tabs cut the barefeet of beachgoers—or they harmed wildlife. So, the beverage can industry responded by inventing the modern stay-on tab.

This little tab involved clever engineering. The tab starts as a second class lever; this is like a wheelbarrow because tip of the tap is the fulcrum and the rivet the load — the effort is being applied on the end. But here’s the genius part: the moment the can vents the tab switches to a first class lever which is like a seesaw: where the load is now at the tip and the fulcrum is the rivet.

You can see clearly how the tab, when working as a wheelbarrow, lifts the rivet. In fact, part of the reason this clever design works is because the pressure inside the can helps to force the rivet up, which in turn depresses the outer edge of the top until it vents the can and then the tab changes to a seesaw lever. Looking from the inside of the can, you can see how the tab first opens near the rivet.

If you tried to simply force the scored metal section into the can using the tab as a first class lever with the rivet as the fulcrum throughout you’d be fighting the pressure inside the can: the tab would be enormous, and expensive.

A typical aluminum can today contains about 70% recycled material. The aluminum beverage can is so ubiquitous that it’s easy to take for granted. But the next time you take a sip from one, consider the decades of ingenious design required to create this modern engineering marvel.

How erasers are made

Make no mistake about it: an eraser is a student’s best friend. Whether it’s attached to the top of a pencil or on its own, only an eraser can quickly rub out an error. White erasers are made of flexible vinyl while pink erasers are made of synthetic rubber.

In 1736 a French explorer observed South American native Indians using a certain tree resin to make bouncing balls. He brought this resin back home and before long Europeans discovered it could rub out pencil marks, hence the term rubber. There was just one problem after a while: rubber would rot. That dilemma was solved a century later by one Charles Goodyear, who developed a curing process to prevent rubber from rotting.

A lot of ingredients go into making a simple pink eraser. Carefully measured fillers, accelerators, curing agents, oils, colouring and the main ingredient – synthetic rubber. They start by putting a batch of rubber into a mill. The rubber passes repeatedly between large heated rollers. Then throw in any defective erasers from the last production run, recycling them into this new batch, then add sulphur as a curing agent.

Accelerators to help the sulphur do its job. Add red colouring then blend everything for five to ten minutes, until the mixture is the consistency of heavy dough. Next add vulcanized vegetable oil (that’s vegetable oil treated with sulphur). Following that regular vegetable oil is added, then calcium carbonate – this acts as a filler when the colour and thickness are just right. In a factory, workers remove the rubber, which by now is hot and soft as a result of all that milling, and leave it to cool and harden at room temperature for about half a day. When the rubber is ready, they cut out large squares, each weighing between 5 and 8 kilograms depending on the thickness of eraser the client has ordered. The squares go into a steam heated press to cure for about 20 minutes at 163 degrees Celsius and the pressure compacts the rubber while the intense heat hardens it. They trim off the excess then submerge the hot rubber squares in cold water to stop the curing process.

To make erasers that erase both lead and ink, they cut beveled strips from two batches of rubber; one pink and one blue. The blue contains pumice which gives it that extra abrasiveness to erase ink. They pair up each pink with a blue to form a two colour strip, then it’s into the steam press. After twelve minutes, workers remove the trays, trim off the excess and submerge the strips and cold water to stop the curing process. Then an automated machine chops the strip’s into pieces the size of erasers.

And back to the all pink erasers – the rubber squares come out of their cold water bath, and go through a machine that cuts strips with beveled edges, then chops the strip’s into erasers. From there the erasers drop into a giant barrel. Workers throw in some talcum powder to prevent them from sticking together, then they set the barrel spinning for three to five hours as the erasers tumble against each other. The abrasion rounds off their edges.

The last step is printing a machine stamps each eraser with the company name and the model number. It’s not the rubber that gives the eraser the ability to erase but rather the vulcanized vegetable oil that’s in it – that’s what makes the eraser crumble when rubbed on paper taking away the pencil marks with it.

How pens are made

Chances are you have at least a dozen pens within reach right now, but how are they made? Tiny polypropylene copolymer pellets also known as PPC are used. PPC is light in weight, resistant to staining and has a low moisture absorption rate. The pellets are fed into a large mixer, separated and measured into the perfect portions.

The next phase of the process is injection. Pellets get poured into a giant funnel known as a hopper. In some instances they are actually vacuumed up their tubes and directly into the hopper where they are measured and portioned for the injection process. The plastic pellets travel down the hopper and into the machine where they’re melted down and injected into mold in the shape of several pen bodies attached to a plastic framework known as a runner. The process is repeated for the pen caps clutches and interior barrel. Once the moulds are removed from the frame the runner can be ground down and turned back into already colored PPC pellets which are used to make more pens. The metal tips at the end of your pens are called nibs. The nibs are attached to the plastic barrel. The ink refill via the assembly line, then the ink is injected into the cartridge through the tip and given a twist.

Then comes the fun part: testing. Multi parameter testing machines are used to test the refills affinity wear rate and amount of ink flow at various writing speeds and they are mesmerizing to watch. Sometimes a little old-fashioned elbow grease is the best test though.

A technician places the ink chamber into the barrel slides on the spring screws on the tip and pops on the thrust tube and push-button. Each pen is inspected by hand to ensure quality control and if one isn’t up to standard, it’s cast aside. Nothing but the best is accepted! Your pens are complete and ready to write. Logos and messages are printed onto the barrel or clip. Even the ink colour can be customized thus transforming them from ordinary writing tools into brand boosting promotional products! An everyday household pen is a common item with a not so common origin, so the next time you sign a check or just jot down a grocery list, take a moment and appreciate all the hard work and technique that went into creating that handy little pen.