Greenpeace has called polyester the ‘Achilles heel’ of fast fashion, making up around 60% of clothing worldwide. In the early 2000s, global demand for polyester outstripped cotton to become the most in-demand fibre in the world. Today, there is twice as much demand for polyester compared with cotton. Many brands are now opting for the recycled alternatives to conventional / ‘virgin’ synthetic fabrics. Most recycled polyester is made from pre or post-consumer waste, such as plastic bottles or fishing nets. These synthetic yarns can be made into almost any fabric; jersey, fleece, knit and woven.
What is recycled polyester?
Polyester is a manmade fibre that is synthesized from petrochemical products, whereas recycled polyester [Recycled polyethylene terephthalate, or rPET for short] is made using recycled PET from water bottles. Recycled polyester not only diverts waste from landfills and production but also uses less water, energy and fossil fuels.
How is recycled polyester made?
1. Plastic bottles are collected from the ocean or diverted from landfills.
2. These bottles are stripped of their labels, cleaned, crushed and chopped into flakes.
3. These flakes are melted into chips or pellets.
4. The pellets are then melted and extruded to make fibres which in turn are made into yarn and woven or knitted into fabric. At this stage, fibres can also be blended with other fibres such as organic cotton.
The process of recycling is not without its own environmental impact and textile-to-textile recycling is still in its infancy. Working towards designing out waste is ultimately better.
Three things to consider when designing more sustainable collections:
- Consider working with recycled alternatives of your chosen materials, the greater the demand the greater the interest and investment in the recycling industry
- Try working with mono rather than blended materials, as blended materials are currently difficult to recycle.
- Consider the dyes and chemical finishes that go into your fabric as this adds another layer of complexity to the recycling process.