How many times have you seen fashion brands that use recycled polyester and label themselves as sustainable? It is true that recycled polyester is a better alternative to the virgin one but, is it really sustainable? Let’s take a look…
Polyester is a synthetic fabric derived from crude oil and PET. PET is one of the most common plastics, you can find it for instance on plastic bottles, packaging, containers… Luckily, it is fully recyclable. Currently, it is most recycled into textiles (recycled polyester). From a design point of view, there is not much difference between recycled and virgin polyester. However, recycled polyester takes 59% less energy to produce. But it still requires more energy than hemp, wool, and cotton. On the other hand, recycled polyester has less quality. Therefore, recycled polyester products can only be downcycled. Besides, since the quality is lower, so is the lifespan of the garment.
Another disadvantage is that polyester does not biodegrade. It decomposes by slowly breaking down into smaller pieces, becoming microplastics. It is estimated that more than half a million metric tons of microfibers enter the ocean due to the washing of synthetic textiles. Microplastics are not only polluting the environment and damaging wildlife, but they are also harmful to us. Besides polluting the water, these plastics also end up in the air and even our food. According to a WWF analysis, we ingest one credit card per week through our food and water.
So we can say that polyester is not really the most sustainable alternative, even if it is recycled. Nowadays, the most sustainable way of producing fashion is upcycling, since it is the only way of making it circular. Besides, the process requires a lot less water and energy. Also, it decreases textile waste, pollution, and greenhouse emissions.