In 2007, when travelling in Asia, Tasha and Barney Green were sitting on the wall of a port in Turkey, watching the plastic bottles bob around in the sea below. A fisherman had sliced a few of them into a long spiral, like an apple peel, to make into rudimentary rope, which he had heat-joined at each end to tether his boat. Seeing these bottles made into a long, fluid strand was a eureka moment for the couple. ‘We thought, “This is crazy – it is basically polyester,”’ says Tasha.
This was before the BBC One series Blue Planet II, which highlighted the problem of plastic pollution, and before Craig Leeson’s documentary A Plastic Ocean, which on its release in 2016 was named by David Attenborough as one of the most important films of our time. And now, what started as a way to use waste plastic has evolved into a thriving business producing home furnishings, including beautiful rugs and soft, tactile blankets.
Tasha and Barney developed a process to break up PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles into chips, extrude them under a high temperature and then transform them into a long, fine fibre. Weaver Green’s production happens in places where the brand can make a difference environmentally and socially. ‘It’s almost impossible not to drink bottled water in developing countries,’ says Tasha, so they work in northern India and Kerala, where there are thriving textile industries.
‘It usually takes five tonnes of water to produce one tonne of textiles,’ she explains. The Greens use a closed-water system that recycles the water and captures micro-plastics. (They use long strands of fibre to decrease the likelihood of shedding and advise their customers to wash on a cool cycle only when necessary – the odd stain can be sponged clean.) The dyeing vats are heated by a low-emissions boiler using byproduct rice and wheat husks; the dyes are all non-toxic and formaldehyde free. The company also uses weaving houses that are inspected regularly by independent auditors and the NGO GoodWeave. All of Weaver Green’s products are made from 100 per cent recycled polyester, which is also entirely recyclable.
Building a brand based on plastic waste has not been easy. It was not until A Plastic Ocean was first shown that people really started talking about the plastic in the oceans. ‘Suddenly, overnight, everyone knew what we were talking about,’ says Tasha. So far, they have diverted 86 million bottles from landfill. ‘We have to deal with the consequences of our own material lives.’
The blankets are well priced and generously sized to allow for maximum bottle recycling. A blanket measuring 230 x 130cm, made from 300 plastic bottles, is just £45. The moth-resistant material does not attract dust mites and, if need be, can be washed in the machine and hung out to dry. And just to show how much Tasha and Barney value recycled plastic as a commodity in its own right – rather than as a waste product – the firm also produces the beautiful ‘Nomad’ range of hand-loomed kilims, from £169 for 150 x 90cm, which celebrates the craft of weaving, as well as the qualities of this most versatile material.
Tasha and Barney’s dos and don’ts
- Always wash plastic before recycling, as you want to remove as many contaminants as possible.
- Before you recycle plastic bottles, take off the polypropylene tamper ring as well as the lid, so that the PET can be separated and recycled in its pure form.
- Watch the documentary A Plastic Ocean.
- Buy cosmetics in glass jars. Avoid pumps and tubes, which are difficult to recycle. You can get powders to replace toothpaste in tubes.
- Avoid buying things in black plastic trays, as they are impossible to recycle.
- Read How to Give up Plastic: Simple Steps to Living Consciously on our Blue Planet by Will McCallum (Penguin Life, £6.99). It is not too worthy and suggests simple, practical things you can do.