It’s very clear that there are many advantages of recycled polyester. In fact, we are going to cover 20 advantages of recycled polyester below.
There are also 5 disadvantages that are less commonly discussed.
From Patagonia to Nike, H&M to Adidas, every brand has been jumping on the bandwagon and using this seemingly amazing fabric.
So what are the pros and cons of using recycled polyester fabric?
Let’s explore this question in detail. Here we are going to uncover 20 advantages of recycled polyester and 5 disadvantages.
There are lots of advantages of recycled polyester that you should know about.
Afterall, there is a reason why standard polyester has been used for decades. A recycled version should have all of the pros with less of the negatives - right?
Recycled polyester, also known as rPET, has been ranked B grade in the Made-By sustainable fabric ranking. That places it alongside Tencel and Organic Cotton, so it is definitely considered a sustainable fabric.
Recycled polyester is made by melting down plastic and spinning it into a new polyester fibre. Generally, it takes 5 water bottles to make enough fibre for one T-shirt.
In comparison, regular polyester is made from crude oil. To turn crude oil into plastic fibres requires a process called polymerization. These fibres can then be woven into a yarn to make fabric. As you’d expect, this requires a lot of energy, water and chemicals.
Turning old waste into new clothes without the need for virgin material clearly has advantages. It is a much more sustainable process, making it better for the environment than regular polyester.
1. Reduced landfill waste
Recycled polyester is made from old plastic bottles, diverting waste from landfill and reducing demand for virgin materials. The UN estimates that we produce around 400 million tonnes of plastic waste every year. Whatever we prevent ending up in landfills is a good thing.
2. No virgin materials
As a recycled fabric, rPET doesn’t rely on virgin materials. This means a lot less crude oil and gas, which is what regular polyester is made from. If we were to switch all polyester to recycled polyester, there would be a lot less demand for this non-renewable resource.
3. Energy efficient production
Recycled polyester uses less energy compared to making clothes from virgin polyester. How much less energy? The Swiss Federal Office for the Environment says recycled polyester textile uses a massive 59% less energy to create compared to regular polyester fabric.
4. Lower CO2 emissions
It takes much more power to produce virgin polyester from crude oil and gas. There is also no need for additional oil to create the material. WRAP estimates that the production of recycled polyester reduces CO2 emissions by 20.7% compared to regular polyester. This means a lower carbon footprint.
5. Lower water footprint
In comparison to regular polyester, the production of rPET consumes less water. However regular polyester is generally seen having a lower water footprint than comparable materials like cotton.
6. Less water pollution
It is impossible to trace many regular polyester fabrics to their source. The reality is that much of the fabric will be produced with little regard for the environment. This means water pollution during production, treating and dying the fabric. Recycled polyester usually has more transparent supply chains, and production facilities prevent local water pollution.
7. Recycled polyester is ethical
Recycled polyester is usually more ethical than regular polyester. This is because the supply chains which recycle the fabric are more transparent, especially when compared to conventional fabrics where it can be incredibly difficult to trace the origins of a garment.
8. Recycled polyester is durable
One of the reasons polyester has been so popular for decades is because it is durable. Similarly, recycled polyester fabric is strong and durable, ideal for clothes, bags, and performance gear.
9. Easy to care for
Polyester is considered easy to care for. Recycled polyester can be machine washed at a lower temperature, requiring less energy through its consumer lifecycle.
Recycled polyester is quick drying, just like regular polyester. This is why it’s perfect for outdoor and athletic wear.
Recycled polyester is engineered to be breathable, allowing air to flow through the threads of the fibre quickly and easily. This prevents buildup of moisture and heat, and allows for moisture wicking.
12. Moisture wicking
Polyester is well known for its moisture wicking properties, making it an excellent choice for athletic wear and active clothing. There’s a reason it’s used in sports clothes so much.
13. Recycled polyester is versatile
Think of how many different products are made from polyester - bags, clothing, shoes, upholstery, and more. Recycled polyester fabric turns waste plastic bottles into a range of products we wear and use.
14. Recycled polyester is affordable
Recycled polyester fabric is often more affordable compared to many sustainable materials. Ultimately this makes it more accessible to a wider range of customers, which will help bring about a sustainable fashion revolution.
Chances are you have regular polyester in your wardrobe. It might be a polyester fleece, pyjamas, leggings, a sports top or dressing gown. Each of these items is soft. Recycled polyester fabric can be engineered to have a soft and comfortable feel.
16. UV protection
A benefit you might not have considered about recycled polyester is UV protection. Polyester fabrics usually provide sufficient UV protection (UPF 30+), while other fabrics such as cotton, linen, and viscose frequently offer poor UV protection.
17. UV resistance
Different from UV protection, polyester fabric has a good resistance to UV rays. This means the material won’t break down or lose its colour when exposed to the sun for long periods of time.
Colours don’t fade in recycled polyester fabrics. This is because the material can easily be dyed into a wide range of colours, and these colours won’t run. This is especially true when compared to fabrics like regular cotton, which takes a lot of processing to bleach and eventually dye into the colours we have grown to expect.
Recycled polyester fabric is hypoallergenic. This means it is a good choice if you have sensitive skin or react to certain fibres.
20. Promotes a circular economy
Recycled polyester helps promote a circular economy. It raises awareness of the need for change in the fashion industry. If more of us come to expect fast fashion retailers to use sustainable fabrics like recycled polyester, they will have to change. This is how you and I can do our bit to promote a more sustainable future.
So far, we have only spoken about the advantages of recycled polyester. Whilst the pros are many, there are also cons of recycled polyester.
Here are the disadvantages of recycled polyester fabric:
Just like regular polyester, recycled polyester sheds microplastics when you wash it. These are tiny plastic fibres that end up in waterways and are so small that wastewater treatment plants can’t filter them out. They have been shown to cause problems to both human and animal health.
There are ways around this. Microfibre bags that catch microplastics are available and a cost effective way to wash your clothes.
Another simple solution is simply to wash your clothes only when needed.
2. Recycled polyester is difficult to recycle
It’s currently incredibly difficult to recycle polyester clothing into new clothing. In fact, less than 1% of all clothing is recycled into new fabrics. What makes it more difficult is that polyester is often blended with other materials, making it all but impossible to recycle with today’s technology.
3. Chemical processing
The production of recycled polyester still requires chemical processes. Generally these processes happen in sophisticated manufacturing facilities which reduce the impact on the environment, however harsh chemicals are still required to convert plastic into fabric and ensure a uniform colour.
4. Energy intensive
Whilst recycled polyester is more efficient to make than regular polyester, it still requires large amounts of energy to break down plastic and turn it into fabric.
5. It doesn’t biodegrade
Unlike many natural fibres, recycled polyester doesn’t biodegrade. This means that unless it is recycled (which at the moment is incredibly rare), it will likely end up in landfills where it will stay for hundreds of years.
Overall it’s hard to deny that recycled polyester is a huge step in the right direction when compared to regular polyester. Yes, it still has its faults. What fabric doesn’t?
Any claims that recycled polyester is greenwashing seems a little extreme. It is clearly a more sustainable fabric and better for the environment.
What’s arguably most important is that it is encouraging retailers to pursue a more sustainable agenda, and raising awareness of the need to buy more sustainable fabrics.
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