A little more than half of the clothes produced worldwide are made of polyester, a synthetic material. Additionally, that number is expected to double as a result of rising demand from a burgeoning global middle class and customers' need for stretchier, more durable clothing. Is polyester, however, recyclable? Numerous environmental organizations are concerned about polyester sustainability. They are concerned that the active component, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), would inevitably accumulate in the environment because there is no safe and efficient way to handle it. Fortunately, the production of clothing from polyester is becoming more environmentally beneficial because of recycled polyester. In certain of their ranges, several well-known manufacturers currently employ recycled polyester. Others also want to use it more frequently in the future, preventing PET from merely ending up in landfills.

In this market, Textile Exchange is a significant participant. Being a non-profit, It is searching for strategies to persuade major fabric sellers like Ikea and Gap to lower the amount of virgin PET in their furniture and clothes. The ultimate objective is to get brands to utilize 36% recycled polyester by the year 2030.

Can Polyester be Recycled? This Is How It Works

Chemically, conventional polyester made from crude oil and recycled polyester is quite similar. The main distinction is that recycled polyester, as opposed to virgin plastic, is made from materials that are already present in the environment. Because of this, many individuals and prominent green organizations consider it to be more sustainable. Manufacturers gather used materials and then crush them into tiny, flat pellets to create recycled polyester. Brands may weave used plastics into yarn using heat and mechanical force, which they can then filter through machines to make garments.

The beautiful thing about recycled polyester is that it doesn't even have to be made from existing polyester. In actuality, it may arise from any plastic that contains PET. For instance, several industries start their production procedures using truckloads of plastic bottles from the neighborhood garbage collection. These are then fed into the equipment, which disassembles them into their component pieces and creates wearable threads. During the plastic shredding process, brands turn used bottles, food packets, and packaging materials into a confetti-like substance, turning everyday single-use plastic trash into apparel that might endure for many years.

The procedure is also quite effective. Five standard Coke bottles may be converted into a t-shirt by manufacturers, providing consumers with clothes that might endure for more than five years. Some companies boast that their plastic is made from consumer garbage (because of the images we all have of landfills packed with soda bottles). However, most of the plastic used to make recycled polyester garments originates from industrial manufacturing. This kind of PET is usually simpler to recycle than consumer-grade PET. Fashion companies can produce more consistent outcomes since there is considerably less pre-processing, and it is frequently a lot more standardized.

The majority of environmentalists are in favor of using recycled polyester. There are certain drawbacks, however.

Benefits of Recycled Polyester

  • Preventing the disposal of plastics in landfills and the seas - A substance that is not biodegradable and would otherwise wind up in a landfill or the ocean is given a second life by recycling polyester8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year on top of the estimated 150 metric tons already present in marine environments. If we keep going in this direction, by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
  • Recycled polyester is exactly as high-quality as virgin polyester yet requires fewer resources to make it. In terms of quality, recycled polyester is nearly similar to virgin polyester. Still, it uses 59 percent less energy during manufacture. Recycled polyester producers want to cut CO2 emissions by 32% compared to virgin polyester. Additionally, recycled polyester can help limit the amount of crude oil and natural gas removed from the planet to produce additional plastic.

Drawbacks of Recycled Polyester

  • Recycling plastic has severe limits- since polyester is frequently combined with other materials to create several clothes. Then recycling them becomes more challenging, if not impossible. Even 100% polyester clothing has a limited lifespan when it comes to recycling. PET may be recycled mechanically or chemically, respectively. When a plastic bottle is mechanically recycled, it is washed, shredded, and then transformed into a polyester chip, which is put through the conventional process of creating fiber. Chemical recycling is the process of repurposing old plastic into its original monomers, which are identical to new polyester. Then, those can be reincorporated into the conventional polyester production process. The majority of recycled polyester fiber is produced mechanically, as it is the less expensive of the two methods and uses only the detergents required to clean the input materials. The fiber may, however, lose some of its strength throughout the mechanical process, necessitating the addition of fresh fiber.
  • PET recycling also has an environmental impact- the polyester chips produced through mechanical recycling can have a wide range of colors; some come out creamy yellow, while others come out crispy white. Some dyers struggle to get a white and turn to chlorine-based bleaches to bleach the base. It is challenging to produce high batch-to-batch color consistency due to the variable dye absorption. Re-dying, which consumes a lot of water, energy, and chemicals, can happen in substantial proportions as a result.
  • Finally, some people dispute the claim that recycled polyester prevents plastic from entering the seas by releasing microplastics. The notorious microplastics, which are released by artificial materials, mean that they nevertheless have little impact. According to the latest research from Plymouth University, which is based in the UK, each washing cycle may release more than 700,000 plastic fibers directly into the environment.

Going towards the sustainable tactic will help reduce the environmental effect that fashion is having. Like other sustainable materials, there are both drawbacks and benefits.