written by Lea Kundicevic – external collaboration
The first time I purchased a second-hand garment made of recycled polyester a couple of years ago, I was automatically drawn by its innovative production process using post-consumer water bottles, quite literally bringing the term “how one’s trash can become another one’s treasure” to a tangible example. I felt pride for keeping the garment, and the material it was made of, out of the landfill. However, the fact that it was synthetic, still struck me — a feature that made me have doubts when thinking about the fight for environmental conservation.
Recycled Polyester, also known as rPET, is obtained by breaking down used plastic and making them into yarn. Although we can find products from this material that are very similar to virgin polyester, the technology for textile recycling is not yet optimized in terms of quality — that depends on the process and percentage of recycled fiber used. In spite of this, as the demand for a more sustainable management of everything has risen in order to protect the planet and everything within it, so has rPET. According to the 2019 Prefer Fiber & Market Report, in 2018 13% of the total polyester production was recycled, a number that is expected to rise to 20% in 2030. The production growth not only has to do with the market’s request, but also with the evolution of a more efficient waste management system around the globe.
Caption: Data source : Textile Exchange
So what are the benefits of this synthetic material over natural fibers? Well, it does not require agriculture, which is the leading cause of deforestation. Additionally, in the case of highly-requested cotton — conventional or organic — the production of this material uses far less water. The downside is that it emits more CO2 than various organic fibers.
As a recycled material, rPET doesn’t need the extraction of a raw material, in this case being petroleum. Every year, 70 million barrels of oil are used just for polyester production alone – that’s a lot! Virgin or not, polyester also sheds off microplastics: the tiny, yet impactful elements polluting oceans, fresh water and land.
The amount of material shed has to do with how the fiber is yarned, which can be monitored in the design and production process. As consumers, we can prevent the 2000 microfibers per garment released through the drain by using one of the various types of fiber filters that are available out there.
Of course due to its complexity and varying factors, the decision whether to use rPET is very much relative depending on where your sensibility is in sustainable management. However, something that should be applied for all materials, synthetic or not, is the right care that will help elongate its life cycle, and extend it to its fullest.