Fantastic Plastic

Everyone knows the drill. Go to a charity event, promote a cause, raise some money and get a T-shirt. While Earth Day participants also may receive the proverbial T-shirt, having it made from recycled plastic gives it a little more meaning.

At least, that's what Lake Park, Fla.-based Direct Access International hopes, as a manufacturer of apparel and promotional products made from 100 percent recycled materials. The 10-year-old company uses a fabric called EcoSpun, a blend of 50 percent post-industrial cotton waste and 50 percent post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic to manufacture its garments, which are being sold under the brand name Round Trip. To make one T-shirt, it takes 2.5 recycled two-liter soda bottles, according to Direct Access Owner Thomas Diemer. With the company receiving approximately 250,000 yards of recycled fabric each year, that amounts to 2.5 million soda bottles that are being saved from becoming landfill fodder.

“People can understand recycling paper into more paper and plastic bottles into new plastic, but they don't understand the T-shirt they are wearing being made from plastic,” Diemer says.

With Earth Day on April 22, Direct Access found itself cranking out many more T-shirts and goods, most of which include special earth-friendly designs. “We probably do three times the business [around Earth Day] than we do in other months,” Diemer says.

Additionally, Diemer says that 80 percent of Direct Access' accounts are government entities. Government waste and recycling authorities use the company's line of 40-plus products as teaching tools to educate consumers about uses for recycled materials and closing the recycling loop. One such client is the Palm Beach County Solid Waste Authority.

“We educate the community about re-using, buying recycled products, [and not] throwing things away,” says Patti Hammond, education manager for the county's solid waste authority. “So we try to have our promos made out of [recycled] stuff, too.”

The county authority's most recent purchases have included custom-designed T-shirts, backpacks, rulers and pens made from cardboard. All of the products have been given away in recycling education programs in area schools and community organizations.

In addition to the Earth Day designs, Direct Access also manufactures products that brandish the slogan, “America Recycles Everyday,” which are made to complement America Recycles Day.