The pro’s and con’s of Recycled Polyester 

In a world where brands are striving towards creating activewear with a sustainable touch, more brands are pushing to adopt natural and/or recycled fabrics, instead of synthetic, un-sustainable options available. In doing so activewear brands are starting to address the global environmental challenges in manufacturing, and producing sustainable, traceable, responsible garments. 

One fibre in particular which is gaining attention is Recycled Polyester. Recycled Polyester or abbreviated as RPET, is produced from post-consumer plastic bottles/ Polyester waste. 

Whereas Virgin Polyester is a synthetic man-made fibre called Polyethylene Terephthalate, known as PET. Polyester fibres are most suitable for sportswear, as they are strong, have low absorbency and will not stretch out of shape. Therefore it is suitable for a wide range of performance apparel. 

As Recycled Polyester helps to address the environmental issues associated with Virgin Polyester production, it is not without its drawbacks. Therefore, in order to decide if Recycled Polyester is the step in the right direction, we will delve into the pros and cons of this recycled fibre.  

Pros: 

  • By recycling and repurposing plastic waste, we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and the need to extract virgin resources, which harm our environment. The reduction in the demand for virgin resources removes our dependency to the main source, and helps us find new resources. 
  • The repurposing of Plastic bottles and other Polyester waste from water bodies, such as oceans, helps clean up marine environments, improving the quality of living for marine wildlife. Additionally, by utilising waste products, we are diverting plastic waste from collecting in Landfills and Oceans which harm wildlife. 
  • The production of Recycled Polyester uses fewer chemicals and water compared to Virgin Polyester, along with 50% less energy, which translates to a lower carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Next, with the current technology improving, the quality of Recycled Polyester has only been improving. Therefore, Sustainable garments are entering the industry at the same level as virgin fabric products. 
  • The increase in demand for Recycled Polyester has allowed it to be widely available and in large quantities. 
  • Consumer awareness has increased the demand for eco-friendly products, which will only improve the recycling infrastructure for the future, allowing more possibilities and options to become available. 
  • Finally, fabric mills are able to produce recycled Polyester within a closed-loop system, allowing a continuous life cycle. Otherwise, reusing existing resources, such as plastic bottles, extends the life cycle of a one purpose product. This is a great selling point to consumers, and allows your activewear to have an interesting backstory. 

Cons: 

  • One of the main drawbacks is when washing, Recycled Polyester like Virgin Polyester, shreds Microfibers which contribute to Microplastic pollution in Water bodies, harming marine life along with entering our food chain. 
  • In order to recycle plastic, the production requires chemicals to break down and refine the new fibre, and these chemicals may not be eliminated in the final product. Therefore, the production of Recycled Polyester has a varying degree of purities. 
  • The quality of the final recycled fibre is entirely dependent on the source and how it is recycled.  
  • Recycling production processes have significant costs associated with it, so are a big investment for companies to transition into. These production processes require a lot of energy, and can reduce the strength in fibre and longevity of the final fibre.  
  • Even though Recycled Polyester can be recycled, it can not biodegrade. So, the fibre can take hundreds of years to decompose, causing environmental pollution and harm to wildlife.  
  • As Recycled Polyester is made from Recycled Plastic bottles and other Polyester waste, it can only be recycled a number of times before it loses quality and strength. 
  • The production of Recycled Polyester is dependent on the single source, therefore if there is a significant increase in demand, the manufacturers may struggle to produce repeat significant quantities, due to a depleted source. 
  • The dependence of a single source relies on areas having the infrastructure to collect and process the plastic bottles, and Polyester waste for recycling. 
  • The overall cost of Recycled Polyester is more expensive than Virgin Polyester. 

In general, with more activewear brands taking the step towards creating a sustainable and circular economy, the use of Recycled Polyester is helping to create a positive, sustainable change. These changes in particular help clean up plastic bottles which are currently contaminating water bodies, lowering our carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions compared to the traditional production of Polyester, and improving the production quality of Recycled Polyester. 

However, by using this sustainable fibre in your activewear you have to consider there are many drawbacks, such as; shredding of microplastic which pollute water bodies, the amount of chemicals used to produce this material, the significant cost associated with production, how it is non-biodegradable and the reliance on a single source. 

Therefore, when selecting materials for your activewear brand you need to ensure you select the right materials which work for your brand’s value and products. 

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