How Sustainable is Recycled Polyester ?

In many of my previous blogs I mention Recycled Polyester. Here I will go into more detail and try to explain how Grizzly Wears Clothing went down that route. Most importantly, answer the question How Sustainable is Recycled Polyester ?

How Sustainable is Recycled Polyester - Image from Condor Ferries
Plastic waste in the Ocean

I’m confident everybody is familiar with images such as this. These days they are all too common. This is a good thing for raising awareness. Also a terrible thing that parts of our planet have come to this. Firstly this is a great starting point in the lifecycle of recycled polyester. To look at plastic waste like this as a valuable resource encourages companies to remove it. 14 million tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean every year.

Where is Recycled Polyester sourced from ?

Recycled Polyester is mostly sourced from industrial waste currently. But it is also harvested from the seas and oceans. It can also be collected from your recycling bins.

Virgin polyester is produced from oil. Oil being a limited resource that does no harm when left where it naturally occurs but so valuable we float buildings out to sea and drill miles down into the earth to collect it. We then load it into ships and transport it miles around the planet for processing.

In conclusion, plastic waste sitting on the ocean floor or floating on top of the water must be much easier to collect. This waste is in the chemical state required for it to be used. Importantly it can be turned back to a raw material requiring less energy than producing virgin polyester.

Turning polyester back to a raw material means it has to be cleaned, shredded, formed into pellets and then spun into fibres. These four steps are much easier than producing it from oil.

Why is all Polyester not recycled then ?

Currently, global industry is more optimised to produce new polyester than recycle it. However, this can be changed by consumers. Actively seek out recycled polyester and buy those products. Brands will go more towards using them if they sell more. Industry will have to realign to produce more recycled polyester than new. As a consumer you have the choice to change this.

Additionally polyester degrades each time it is recycled and requires new material to be added. This new material does not have to be from oil as we can break down polyester to compounds and reform it. Leading the way to a closed loop system.

Money plays a big factor in business. Companies seeking maximum profit will use virgin polyester. Although a more complex process to make, it is done on a huge scale. This huge scale operation means virgin polyester is cheaper to produce. The effect is companies have less incentive to use recycled. As we see use of recycled over virgin polyester increase, the costs should decrease. When recycled becomes cheaper than virgin polyester there will be a big incentive for businesses to switch. In addition the plastic floating in seas and oceans will become more valuable. Post consumer waste such as plastic bottles will be less common in landfill.

That would be a great achievement to look forward to. And it could happen.

How Sustainable is Recycled Polyester. A beautiful seascape
Beautiful, clear seas

What about microplastics ?

Microplastics are still a problem. They get into our water, soil and foods. With help of current research, plants which consume microplastics such as eelgrass and oyster mushrooms are helping to tackle the problem. Thousands of microplastics are released every time clothing is washed and make their way out into the wider world.

Being found in a wide variety of wildlife and sea creatures, microplastics are a danger to other animals. Recycled polyester will release just as much microplastic fibres as virgin polyester. I don’t know of a way this can be prevented other than more research into plants that can remove them.

Organic fabrics such as cotton, hemp or bamboo do help relieve problems created by polyester but for the foreseeable future it looks like it is here to stay. This is why we need to be more responsible about how we use polyester and recycle rather than create. These natural fabrics definitely do not perform as well as polyester in sportswear and that is the problem. Removing plastic from the environment is a great step along the way. Hopefully as time moves on, there will be an effective solution for removing microplastics for good.

In the meantime if you want to try and relieve the problem a little, why not try filtering the water coming out of your washing machine with a microfiber filter from https://planetcare.org

In conclusion…

The bottom line is with current fashion trends for athleisure type clothing, polyester is an unavoidable material. Impact can be lessened by switching to recycled over virgin. Consumer demand still grows and so does production. How Sustainable is Recycled Polyester ? In my opinion it is a huge step in the right direction. Furthermore we are only getting better at recycling and we need to keep going that way. Recycled polyester is a great tool in the battle to tackle climate change.

If you like this blog and found it helpful and informative, support me by buying my sustainable clothing and help me feed into closed loop recycling !

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