by Christina Dang
5 minute read
When I first heard about recycled polyester in the fashion industry, I thought this would be a great way to dip my toes into becoming environmentally conscious while continuing to be a shopaholic. As more and more companies are incorporating recycled polyester into their merchandise, is it as enticing as its title?
So What is Recycled Polyester?
Polyester (PET) is a manufactured synthetic fiber derived from petroleum. As a raw material, polyester is a flexible plastic often used to produce certain types of disposable water bottles called PET bottles. Virtually all popular beverage companies utilize PET bottles to sell to consumers. Recycled polyester (rPET) is used polyester that has been recycled into a new product, namely textiles. The majority of recycled polyester (rPET) used for textiles are made from PET bottles.
There are two methods to recycle polyester:
Mechanical Recycling: The process of melting plastic into new yarn. This can only be done a few times; afterwards, the fiber would begin to deteriorate in quality.
Chemical Recycling: The process of breaking down plastic molecules and reforming them into yarn. This process does not diminish the original quality of the fibers when recycled, meaning the material can be recycled infinitely.
Is Recycled Polyester Sustainable?
Before talking about whether recycled polyester is sustainable, it’s important to define what it means to be sustainable. To be considered environmentally sustainable means to be able “to meet a need without compromising the ability for future generations to meet their needs” (Mcgill, 2022). However, after delving into the topic I’ve noticed that fashion companies have recently begun to promote rPET as an innovative approach to sustainable clothing and shoes, convincing consumers that their products are “environmentally friendly”. However, the name “recycled polyester” is more used as a marketing tactic to hook more consumers who are passionate about the topic. While rPET does have benefits to the environment, there are many drawbacks that are not widely known amongst consumers that companies are reluctant to bring to light. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of rPET.
rPET reduces the amount of plastic in the landfill and ocean
Recycling polyester allows producers to use polyester more than just one time, reducing the overall waste that eventually ends up in landfills and oceans. This specifically helps marine animals by reducing the risk of them either consuming or getting caught in the plastic.
rPET requires less resources than virgin polyester
The quality of rPET is about the same as virgin polyester and requires 70% less energy to produce. To make shirts from rPET, 30% less energy is utilized in comparison to shirts made from virgin polyester.
Recycling polyester has its limitations
Many of the products made from rPET are often made with a blend of polyester and other materials. This makes recycling these products difficult or even impossible to do.
Closing the loop is a lot harder than it seems
Chemical recycling is the only process that can recycle infinitely but the cost is quite expensive. For textiles to be recycled on a larger scale the infrastructure of collection and distribution needs to be built.
rPET is Non-biodegradable
Some garments made from recycled polyester will be unable to be recycled again and take many years to decompose, meaning that the items that are unable to be recycled will be discarded and sit in a landfill. The number of clothes in landfills are only multiplying at the moment.
Microplastics are extremely small pieces of plastic that are sometimes too small to be seen by the human eye. These particles are often ingested by marine animals and humans which can negatively affect our health. Check out our other blog post, “We Eat, Drink, and Breathe Microfibers” that talks about microfibers (a type of microplastic) and goes more in depth about the impact it has.
My Final Thoughts
Despite all the cons, I believe purchasing products made with rPET is a much better decision than to buy clothes that do not even have the chance to get a second life. However, it’s important to be aware that rPET is a good choice but not the best choice when it comes to the environment. Like many of the consumers, I don't have a lot of money and resources to buy a completely sustainable wardrobe, but I believe that taking small conscious actions at a time will make a difference. We as consumers have immense power over companies by voting with their dollar. Researching and buying products from companies that align with your environmental goals and supporting them will help these companies be able to continue on these endeavors.
CFDA. (n.d.). Retrieved June 9, 2022, from https://cfda.com/resources/materials/detail/polyester
Elven, M. van. (2021, March 9). How sustainable is recycled polyester? FashionUnited. Retrieved June 9, 2022, from https://fashionunited.uk/news/fashion/how-sustainable-is-recycled-polyester/2018111540000
Gabriel Arthur firstname.lastname@example.org, Arthur, G., & Gabriel.email@example.com. (2021, April 27). Facts you should know about recycled polyester. Suston Magazine. Retrieved June 9, 2022, from https://sustonmagazine.com/2017/06/05/facts-you-should-know-about-recycled-polyester/#:~:text=As%20a%20raw%20material%2C%20it,most%20commonly%20from%20PET%20bottles.
Recycled polyester. SustainYourStyle. (n.d.). Retrieved June 9, 2022, from https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/recycled-polyester2
What is sustainability? - mcgill university. (n.d.). Retrieved June 16, 2022, from https://www.mcgill.ca/sustainability/files/sustainability/what-is-sustainability.pdf
Yale experts explain microplastics. Yale Sustainability. (2020, December 1). Retrieved June 16, 2022, from https://sustainability.yale.edu/explainers/yale-experts-explain-microplastics