What is Recycled Polyester? Materials Guide
Perhaps you’ve bought yourself a new T-shirt or sweatshirt lately. When you put it on you see that its label says, “I used to be a plastic bottle”. If this is the case, it’s very likely that your athleisure fashion garment was manufactured from recycled polyester.
Fashionable or not, most of us wear some form of polyester. This textile has actually become the most popular choice for clothing. It overtook cotton (both organic and original) in popularity in 2002.
By 2020, everybody was producing and buying recycled polyester. In fact, 52 percent of fibres manufactured that year were polyester. And it is highly likely that this trend has continued.
Of course, we live in a world where being ethical, sustainable and nurturing our precious environment is uppermost in our minds. So, it should come as no surprise that the world had to find a way of recycling polyester.
People create this textile, commonly called rPET, from discarded recyclable plastic bottles and containers. We’re talking about cold drinks, take-away items, straws and the like.
This more environmentally friendly material is certainly a great alternative. In fact, we use far fewer resources to produce this textile than other synthetic cloths. And tests have shown that its production generates fewer CO2 emissions.
How does one make recycled polyester?
This more eco-friendly type of cloth is a great sustainable choice, especially when you compare it to virgin polyester. Businesses use renewable raw materials to produce the reprocessed textile. They make it by melting down existing plastic items and transforming them into virgin polyester.
Factories create recycled polyester (rPET) out of household items that people have discarded after use, like plastic bottles, straws, and containers. They also make it from other similar types of waste from manufacturers and factories.
There are different types of recycling
The most common method used to recycle this textile is mechanical recycling. This involves melting down the waste items to make new thread. However, after recycling the textile this way a few times, the fibre tends to weaken. So, they had to create another form of recycling.
The chemical recycling process is more expensive but has longer-lasting effects. Factories create it chemically by dissecting plastic molecules and then building them up again into yarn. This method of processing chemically recycled polyester maintains the quality of the thread. In fact, if you do it this way, you can reprocess the textile over and over again.
What type of fabric is Repreve recycled polyester?
You’ll often hear about ‘Repreve’, an upgrade of sustainable polyester. Factories produce this more viable brand in the US under the brand name ‘Unifi.’
First manufactured in 1971, it uses plastic lids and bottles to create the recycled material. It’s famous because it has a low environmental impact. The reason? Producing this type of fibre involves using less energy and water plus less gas emissions.
We mostly use Repreve for fashion brands and athletic wear. Companies also create some textiles from these sustainable cloths.
The difference between virgin polyester and the more sustainable recycled polyester
This synthetic man-made material was first produced in the 1930s. Factories create it out of fossil fuels. They also produce it using the most common form of plastic on earth, rPET. (This is the short form of the technical term ‘polyethylene terephthalate’.) We use this fibre to make all sorts of products, everything from sustainable fashion garments to upholstery and packaging.
This particular textile has always been a popular choice, as it doesn’t stretch or shrink after washing. It’s durable and easy to clean, dries fast and doesn’t crease, too.
Factories make this synthetic textile from petroleum, which, as we know, is not practical. The process of transforming crude oil into petroleum involves using plenty of energy, which is not environmentally friendly. It also releases a number of toxins into the atmosphere. This is harmful to humans, the environment and the world’s fragile eco-system.
The original synthetic material is extremely popular and still widely produced. This is despite many sustainable fabrics on the market like reprocessed polyester.
How is recycled polyester sustainable?
Recycled Polyester is the viable alternative to the original textile and helps reduce our carbon footprint. Factories produce it out of plastic waste.
The manufacturing process conserves much less energy than the process used to produce synthetic virgin polyester fibres.
Factories make this type of textile by sorting and melting plastic waste products and breaking them up into small polyester chips.
They then melt the chips and spin them into a recycled fibre. We use this fibre to make all sorts of textile items.
Certification standards for recycling
For this reprocessed to be high quality and sustainable, it has to meet certain certification regulations. These include the GRS (Global Recycled Standard) that ensures the fibre meets certain criteria, and the Oeko-Tex 100 Standard.
The Global Recycled Standard involves following strict chemical order in the manufacturing process of recycled polyester. The manufacturer also needs to follow best practices when it comes to social and environmental responsibility.
Under the Oeko-Tex100 Standard, manufacturing recycled polyester fibres requires using materials free of chemicals. Also, the textile produced cannot include substances that will harm the environment and the health of human beings.
Benefits of using a more sustainable polyester in your business
· We believe this textile is affordable.
· Fashion brands choose this fabric because it is so durable.
· Often people make clothing for children and infants out of sustainable polyester. It's popular because it is soft, lightweight, and gentle on the skin. This textile is also used to make swimsuits as it is resistant to UV rays.
· For industrial use, these fabrics are an excellent choice. They are very long-lasting and can be resistant to fire and insects.
· More sustainable reprocessed polyester is another big plus. Plastic pollution is a major environmental issue.
Producing this particular textile offers non-toxic products a second life. This means that the product doesn’t end up in the ocean or a landfill.
Also, the production process uses less energy.
· Good news – printing on the recycled textile requires a water-free heat transfer process, which is eco-friendly.
What do we use this sustainable type of polyester for?
· Recycling polyester accounts for a lot of the clothing children and adults wear, including high fashion brands, leisure apparel and workwear.
· Because of its durability, this textile is a smart choice for sportswear (including sports shoes). We also use it as linings for coats and other outdoor garments.
· One can transform this versatile textile into all sorts of homeware items like cushions, curtains, aprons, tea towels and blankets.
We also use this more sustainable textile to create fashionable soft furnishings such as linen, tableware, comforters and bedspreads.
Printing on recycled polyester
The results are exceptional. The colours are bright and have extremely vivid saturated tints.
They don’t fade after washing and there’s a sharpness of detail that makes the design stand out.