The benefits of recycled polyester
Forget what you think you know about polyester
Words— Mylène Genty
Polyester, what used to be the bad boy of textiles is going through a Renaissance. Nowadays, doing your part for the environment is a no-brainer. It’s such a big part of the zeitgeist that even polyester, a non-organic fibre, is now doing its part.
Polyester doesn’t resonate at first as an eco-friendly product, but it's becoming an essential ally in our quest for sustainability. The fibres were developed in the 40s, created from the reaction of chemical components. In short: it’s a type of plastic made from petroleum. Back then, it was a groundbreaking fabric that matched the need for efficiently made and cheap materials. Durable, stretchy, easy to take care of and with no need for ironing, it became wildly popular in the 70s. Think of the suit worn by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Who wouldn’t want to wear that? Today, its use remains ubiquitous: it’s in our clothing, our home fabrics, bathing suits, shoes, athletic wear, luggage and outerwear. Its use is virtually essential in modern clothing, to a point where we can’t seem to do without it.
They say that moderation is the key to life. That’s the root of the problem with polyester - and with any man-made product for that matter: the issue is the overconsumption. According to Statistica, "In 1975, there were some 3.37 million metric tons of polyester fibers produced worldwide. By 2017, global polyester fiber production increased to 53.7 million metric tons." As more people participate in the neverending cycle of fast-fashion, it causes real damage. For example, polyester shirts have "more than double the carbon footprint of a cotton shirt". It also decomposes at a much slower rate than organic fabrics.
There is a way it can redeem itself though: through recycled polyester. This recycling is actually achieved by means of either a mechanical or a chemical process. The mechanical process uses the waste from plastic bottles, then turns it back into a polyester chip, which then goes through the traditional fibre making process. The chemical process focuses on existing polyester clothing. Old garments are shredded down into miniature chips, which are then spun into new polyester yarn and woven into the fabric.
The benefits of recycled polyester undoubtedly help move the needle in the design of sustainable clothing. Recycled polyester not only contributes to the reduction of petroleum extraction, but it also consumes less energy than the regular method, and allows for a much longer life-cycle of the garment. Since the recycling process can be repeated instead of disposing of unwanted garments, it diminishes the environmental impact that comes with garment waste. Polyester in itself is far from being bad - it’s properties are essential in modern clothing, especially for our canadian winters. It’s durable, resistant to abrasion, great for insulation and retains its shape, making it a necessary asset for outdoor clothing.
Recycled fabrics like polyester allow us to manufacture quality outerwear, without animal cruelty and unsustainable resources. In the long run, there is something truly satisfying in wearing garments that does its part for our environment and the people.