Crumpled plastic bottle on grass.Is Polyester Plastic?
Essentially yes, the fibres are spun from plastic polymers. So when you see fabrics sold as Recycled Polyester, it actually means 'Polyester made from recycled plastics', but more on this later...

Let's start with Polyester. A synthetic petroleum-based fibre, which means it a carbon-intensive non-renewable resource. It will not biodegrade, though will eventually break down into smaller and smaller pieces, they will remain on this planet forever.
Polyester requires more than double the amount of energy to produce than conventional cotton. Even though it has a lower water impact than natural fibres, Polyester is stain-resistant and so requires high impact dyeing methods which has greater impact on water supplies, as well as adding to higher energy and chemical usage.
"Today there are two primary types of polyester called polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and poly-1, 4-cyclohexylene-dimethylene (PCDT).  PET is the most popular type as it is applicable to a wider variety of uses and is stronger than PCDT." [1.]

Plastic can be recycled
Certain PET plastics can be recycled yes. Most 'Recycled Polyester' fabrics you find on the market are actually made from recycled PET bottles, as opposed to being from polyester fabrics. Well, the potential is there.
As Polyester was originally made using lots of toxic chemicals, it then requires further toxic chemicals to recycle it. Furthermore, the dyeing process here is less consistent. So, yep, more chemicals, more energy, more water is required. Although it does use less energy than producing virgin Polyester (but still more than conventional cotton).

Can Recycled Polyester then be recycled?
"“Most people believe that plastics can be infinitely recycled, but each time plastic is heated it degenerates, so the subsequent iteration of the polymer is degraded and the plastic must be used to make lower quality products,” said Patty Grossman, co-founder of Two Sisters Ecotextiles, in an email to FashionUnited. Textile Exchange, however, states on its website that rPET can be recycled for many years: “garments from recycled polyester aim to be continuously recycled without degradation of quality”, wrote the organization, adding that the polyester garment cycle has the potential to become “a closed loop system” someday."[2.]
So the potential to make recycling plastic a closed-loop operation is all there but these are not yet commonplace. Fortunately there are companies and businesses out there trying to make these advancements.

Post consumer issues
Another issue with Polyester is that is water resistant and so, it grows bacteria quicker causing the fabric to smell. With wear these bacteria occur causing odours which do not necessarily wash out, causing the wearer to wash the garment more frequently. This is a major contribution to the release of plastic microfibres into our waterways.
With this mind, I would say that 'Recycled Polyester' is best used for applications that do not require much laundry, such as in shoes or waterproof coats. 





Photograph courtesy of Karolina Grabowska @ Pexels

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published