Polyester and rPET
The rise of polyester since its invention in 1941 has been meteoric. It is estimated that polyester now accounts for more than 50% of fibre used in the textile industry*
Recycled polyester (rPET) is popping up more and more on your clothes labels. But what exactly is it?
Traditional, virgin polyester (PET) is a result of a chemical reaction between petroleum (from crude oil), coal, and water.
Recycled polyester can be made in a number of ways. The fabric we use at Kit Change is from used plastic bottles (the ones with a 1 on the base).
The plastic bottles are washed and have their labels removed. They are then ground into plastic chips. These chips are extruded into a fibre and spun into yarn. This yarn is knitted along with elastane into our fabric.
All of this happens at a GRS (Global Recycle Standard) certified mill. This ensures the correct social, chemical, and environmental practises are in place during production.
The cloth is then dyed at an Okeo-Tex certified dye plant, where no harmful chemicals are used, and waste is processed correctly.
The first benefit of this recycling process is obvious – plastic bottles which would otherwise go into landfill or be incinerated, are repurposed.
Additionally, recycled polyester uses between 30-50% less energy than virgin polyester production**
One more especially important win is that crude oil is not used in the process, preserving natural resources.
At the end of its life, as a synthetic fibre, polyester is not biodegradable. Some polyesters can be chemically recycled into new polyester, but this is a relatively new process and not available on an industrial scale yet. A fully circular system is our ultimate goal, where end of life garments are processed and put back into the supply chain.
Currently, we work with 2 recycling partners, reusing or recycling your end-of-life activewear. You can read more about our recycling programme here.
Another problem is microplastics. Tiny beads of plastic released from your polyester clothes when they are washed, which ultimately end up in the rivers and therefore the food chain.
Better quality fabrics reduce the shedding of these microplastics, while the best solution for this currently is to use a wash bag such as a Guppy Friend. There is also growing pressure on washing machine manufacturers to add a filter as standard to their machines. Using shorter and more gentle washing cycles also helps.
Is recycled polyester the best option?
The performance qualities of polyester are well known. These are especially important in activewear. It must be supportive, sweat wicking, breathable, have 4 way stretch, be lightweight and long lasting.
Natural fibres instinctively feel more earth friendly. However, the sustainability rating of natural fibres is complex. Huge amounts of water and land are used in cotton production for example, and some bamboo processing methods can be very damaging.
We believe recycled polyester is certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to sustainable activewear choices. But it’s the start of a process, and by no means the end of the journey.
In addition, we need to buy less, use what we already have and consider the purchases that we do make carefully.
We are constantly researching developments in recycled technologies, especially those closer to home. We are also working on sustainable alternative fabrics such as lyocell and newer developments like bio polyester.
*Source Future Fabrics Expo 9 (2020)