Tyvek, that super sturdy, plastic-fiber material that makes those FedEx and Priority Mail packages so impossible to rip or tear, is one of those things that can made dedicated TreeHuggers cringe. It's so grey area. Tyvek is made from #2 plastic, which is theoretically and in some cases actually recyclable (DuPont will take it back if you are willing to pay the postage) and it has supreme durability and thus (possibly) reusability. So is it evil or exciting? To New York-based designer Terence Kelleman, thrilling to the idea of designing a wallet that is lightweight, won't wear out very quickly, and can be recycled when it does reach the end of its days, Tyvek was just loaded with sustainability potential.
No sewing, no stitching, no duct tape
Kelleman got to thinking one day after seeing duct-tape wallet creations of resourceful DIYers. While the idea was great, duct tape wasn't exactly easy to work with. Why had no one made a wallet from Tyvek? After a mad Internet search turned up little, Kelleman got to the drawing board. He felt the stitching is a conventional wallet's weakest point, and determined to make his design out of a single sheet of Tyvek.
Knowing he'd be stymied if first-round production costs got too high, Kelleman then adding the extra restriction that the wallet could be printed on one-side only, to save costs. He practically drove himself crazy with folding and re-folding, trying to find a way to make the wallet work. When Kelleman came up with something, little did he know that the headache (to find a company to produce this folded wonder) had just begun. When that was solved, financing became the next hurdle.
Finally, the wallet debuted in 2005 and is now available in an array of different designs. As Kelleman points out in the video, the Tyvek expands as the user's need grows, and the Tyvek material develops a certain patina when it ages, almost like leather would.
But is it sustainable?
At Dynomighty Kelleman's Dynomighty is always described as recyclable - and DuPont itself calls Tyvek "readily recyclable." And it's true that DuPont will accept your Tyvek back in its recycling program. Don't waste your time looking for that recycling program at the DuPont web site, though - it isn't "readily" accessible - see the Planet Green link below instead.
The U.S. Postal Service, which swears by Tyvek mailing envelopes, received Cradle-to-Cradle certification in 2007 for the use of this packaging. In William McDonough and Michael Braungart's Cradle-to-Cradle system, Tyvek would be a "technical nutrient" that should be handled in a closed-loop system and endlessly recycled. Yet Material Concepts says that DuPont recycles collected Tyvek into "other useful materials...park benches, playground equipment, etc." That, to this TreeHugger, is clearly downcycling. What do you think?
In any event, if you've been wondering what to do with those Tyvek mailing envelopes gathering dust underneath your desk, now you know: 1) Send them to DuPont and hope for a park bench near you; 2) Find a place that takes #2 plastic, or 3) make your own Tyvek wallet here.