How Sustainable Are Recycled Polyester Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis

How Sustainable Are Recycled Polyester Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis

By
Quynh Nguyen

Read Time:21 Minutes

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Recycling plastic bottles to make polyester fabrics reduces the amount of long-lasting, potentially hazardous plastic in landfills and avoids digging into the nonrenewable fossil reserve for more virgin plastic. This seemingly win-win situation has put recycled polyester into the spotlight of new green textile materials. But is it truly all sustainable or rather greenwashing? So, we had to ask: How sustainable are recycled polyester fabrics?

Recycled polyester fabrics are generally sustainable. Reutilizing plastic (instead of extracting more fossil fuels) as raw materials for polyester fabrics reduces pressure on nonrenewable resources. It also saves land (for storing plastic waste for centuries) among other resources.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the life-cycle of recycled polyester fabrics used for clothes and household items. Then, we evaluate its sustainability, potential, and shortfalls. And in the end, we’ll show you tips for buying sustainable products made with recycled polyester fabrics.

Here’s How We Assessed the Sustainability of Recycled Polyester Fabrics

Recycled polyester fabrics are generally considered sustainable. Reusing plastic bottles or discarded polyester fibers to make recycled polyester clothes reduces the pressure on fossil fuels – the raw materials for most virgin polyester. It leads to recycled polyester generally being a low-impact fabric, especially compared to conventional polyester

Recycled polyester fabrics can be made via two different routes: mechanical and chemical. 

“Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

To understand the sustainability of recycled polyester fabrics, we must assess its life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCA to research and create more sustainable products. So, let’s have a look at the LCA of recycled polyester fabrics!

In this article, we’ll use the cradle-to-grave perspective of the LCA, examining the five stages of the life-cycle of clothes and bedding made with recycled polyester fabrics. When applicable, we also look at cradle-to-gate assessments

The life-cycle stages of recycled polyester fabricsEach stage’s sustainability
Sourcing of recycled polyester fabricsSourcing discarded plastic bottles and/or textile waste for making recycled polyester is exceptionally sustainable. It utilizes waste instead of depleting the nonrenewable fossil reserves to make virgin plastic.
Manufacturing of recycled polyester fabricsManufacturing recycled polyester fabrics is generally unsustainable. This is especially the case when done with the chemical recycling processes as opposed to the mechanical ones.

Chemical recycling uses chemicals (acids and solvents) to dissolve plastic before reproducing polyester fibers, creating hazardous by-products and waste. It is also relatively energy-intensive. However, chemical recycling can remake polyester fabrics from the same monomers that form the original polyester fiber waste, closing the loop of textile production.

Conversely, plastic mechanical recycling doesn’t use toxic chemicals. However, this method of producing recycled polyester fabrics tends to suffer from inferior quality and the limited number of times plastic can be mechanically recycled, making truly circular plastic impossible via the mechanical route.
Transporting of recycled polyester fabricsTransporting can be a carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of items made with recycled polyester fabrics because of the emissions associated with transporting and delivering vehicles. Discarded PET bottles and polyester fiber waste typically travel from various locations to collection hubs, processing factories, sorting centers, shops, and consumer’s houses before going to recycling centers or landfills.
Usage of recycled polyester fabricsUsing recycled polyester fabrics is generally considered unsustainable because washing polyester clothes during the usage phase contributes to the increasingly serious problem of microplastic presence in marine environments. However, energy usage for washing, drying, and ironing polyester fabrics could be relatively low. Also, (chemically) recycled polyester fabrics could be highly durable. 
End-of-life of recycled polyester fabricsThe end-of-life stage for recycled polyester is not sustainable because this fossil-based material is not biodegradable.

We can say that recycled polyester fabrics are among the more sustainable textile materials. However, the actual environmental impact of a particular product, like a fleece jacket or a yoga top, depends on more specific factors, including the raw material, the manufacturing processes (chemical or mechanical recycling), and the distance and mode of transportation

Let’s dive deeper into each life-cycle stage and find out how you can buy recycled polyester fabrics more sustainably.

How Sustainable Is the Sourcing of Raw Materials for Recycled Polyester Fabrics

Sourcing discarded plastic bottles and/or textile waste for making recycled polyester is exceptionally sustainable. It utilizes waste instead of depleting the nonrenewable fossil reserves to make virgin plastic.

What Raw Materials Are Used for Recycled Polyester Fabrics

The raw materials for recycled polyester fabrics are discarded plastic-based items. 

Some examples of raw materials used in manufacturing recycled polyester fabrics are: 

  • Thrown-away plastic bottles
  • Used polyester clothing items 
  • Discarded polyester yarn waste, scraps, and trimmings 

Polyethylene terephthalate or PET plastic bottles are currently the main source of raw materials for recycled polyester fabrics: In 2020, 99% of all recycled polyester fabrics were PET bottle based

To illustrate this point: 5 soda bottles can yield fibers for an extra large T-shirt.

However, discarded polyester fibers, such as from post-consumer garments or post-industrial trimmings, are also suitable raw materials for making recycled polyester fabrics. 

How Do the Raw Materials Sourced for Recycled Polyester Fabrics Impact the Environment

Sourcing discarded PET bottles or polyester fiber waste to make recycled polyester fabrics is generally highly sustainable. It helps reduce plastic waste, which clogs up landfills for centuries or, worse yet, ends up in water bodies, harming wildlife and humans. 

Also, the more recycled plastic is used in the new polyester fabrics, the less pressure is put on the nonrenewable fossil resources needed to produce virgin plastic. 

Sourcing Discarded PET Bottles or Polyester Fiber Waste Instead of Virgin PET To Make Recycled Polyester Fabrics Avoids Depletes Nonrenewable Resources 

Most virgin polyester is made with ethylene derived from petroleum or natural gas, nonrenewable resources that take millions of years to form and are currently depleting at a rate much too fast

Thus, making polyester fabrics from discarded PET bottles or polyester fiber waste instead of virgin PET avoids further depletion of the nonrenewable fossil reserves. 

Sourcing Discarded PET Bottles or Polyester Fiber Waste Instead of Virgin PET To Make Recycled Polyester Fabrics Saves Energy Needed For Refining and Cracking 

The raw materials for most virgin polyester come from ethylene derived from natural gas or crude oil, which requires extracting, refining, and cracking – energy-intensive processes using fuel-guzzling machinery. 

Also, transporting fossil fuels from often far-flung extraction sites, by trucks, ships, tankers, and/or pipelines, to refining and manufacturing facilities is another source of energy usage.

Thus, making polyester fabrics from discarded PET bottles or polyester fiber waste instead of virgin PET saves the energy often required in this sourcing stage of virgin polyester. 

Sourcing Discarded PET Bottles or Polyester Fiber Waste Instead of Virgin PET To Make Recycled Polyester Fabrics Reduces The Global Warming Impact 

The high energy consumption in sourcing ethylene for virgin polyester can lead to elevated global warming impact when manufacturing burns fossil fuels for energy. 

Thus, making polyester fabrics from discarded PET bottles or polyester fiber waste instead of virgin PET saves carbon dioxide emissions during the sourcing stage of virgin polyester. 

A life-cycle assessment found that recycled PET plastic (or rPET) saves as much as 79% of carbon emissions compared with its virgin counterpart

Sourcing Discarded PET Bottles or Polyester Fiber Waste Instead of Virgin PET To Make Recycled Polyester Fabrics Avoids Pollution and Habitat Destruction 

Drilling for crude oil or natural gas causes lasting environmental damage, from air and water pollution to habitat degradation and destruction and other disruptions to wildlife. 

Thus, making polyester fabrics from discarded PET bottles or polyester fiber waste instead of virgin plastic avoids such adverse environmental impacts.

Related: Are you interested to find out more about the environmental impact of sourcing virgin polyester? Check it out in this article here: “How Sustainable Are Polyester Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis.
Sourcing Discarded PET Bottles or Polyester Fiber Waste To Make Recycled Polyester Fabrics Reduces Plastic Waste 

Humans have made, used, and thrown away a lot of plastics. Such plastic waste is choking our planet. 

The shift towards single-use plastic packaging creates even more waste as these items are thrown away after one use. 

The data on textile waste is similarly alarming: a truck-full load of used clothes is dumped globally into a landfill site every second

Since polyester accounts for more than half of all textiles produced (52% in 2020), the amount of polyester fiber waste is huge. 

Consequently, reusing PET plastic bottles and/or discarded polyester fibers reduces the amount of plastic-based waste, partly lightening the pressure on land resources for storing these non-biodegradable materials. 

Sourcing Discarded PET Bottles Make Recycled Polyester Fabrics Breaks The Circularity of Bottle-to-Bottle Recycling 

Though sourcing PET bottles to make recycled polyester fabrics contributes to plastic waste reduction, concerns have been raised about taking PET bottles out of bottle-to-bottle recycling, breaking the circularity of PET bottle production

PET plastic bottles can be recycled repeatedly, but when a PET bottle is turned into polyester fabric, it is removed from this closed-loop system. 

Using discarded polyester clothing items to make recycled polyester fabrics avoids taking PET bottles out of its circular economy while closing the loop of textile production.

However, this practice currently accounts for a minimal share in manufacturing recycled polyester fabrics due to the challenges in recycling (post-consumer) polyester clothing items. 

The most prominent problems of reusing polyester fibers from used clothes are the complexity and cost of dissembling polyester, especially when many garments are not made from pure polyester fibers but from a blend of cotton and polyester

In brief, sourcing PET plastic bottles and/or discarded polyester fibers is generally highly sustainable because it helps reduce the amount of plastic waste in landfills, the pressures on nonrenewable fossil resources, and the global warming impact of producing raw materials for virgin polyester. 

Where Are the Raw Materials for Recycled Polyester Fabrics Usually Sourced From

The raw material for recycled polyester fabrics can be collected before or after being used by a consumer. 

The former type of plastic waste (pre-consumer or post-industrial) can occur at any point during manufacturing and selling. Some examples of this type of polyester fiber waste are: 

  • Cutting scraps 
  • Semi-finished clothing products
  • Returned clothing products 

Pre-consumer waste is straightforward to collect and classify in terms of material, color, and materials. It is also less likely to be contaminated compared to post-consumer plastic waste. 

The latter type of waste (post-consumer) is generated at consumers’ homes or within various industries. Some examples of this type of waste are: 

  • Used clothes
  • Empty PET plastic bottles 

Post-consumer garment recycling challenges are difficulties in sorting and dealing with contamination risks.

How Sustainable Is the Manufacturing of Recycled Polyester Fabrics

Manufacturing recycled polyester fabrics is generally unsustainable. This is especially the case when done with the chemical recycling processes as opposed to the mechanical ones.

Chemical recycling uses chemicals (acids and solvents) to dissolve plastic before reproducing polyester fibers, creating hazardous by-products and waste. It is also relatively energy-intensive. However, chemical recycling can remake polyester fabrics from the same monomers that form the original polyester fiber waste, closing the loop of textile production.

Conversely, plastic mechanical recycling doesn’t use toxic chemicals. However, this method of producing recycled polyester fabrics tends to suffer from inferior quality and the limited number of times plastic can be mechanically recycled, making truly circular plastic impossible via the mechanical route. 

In the following sections, we will look into the mechanical and chemical manufacturing processes of recycled polyester fabrics separately to highlight the distinct natures of each method and how they affect the sustainability of recycled polyester fabrics. 

How Sustainable Is The Mechanical Process To Manufacture Recycled Polyester Fabrics 

The standard steps in making mechanically recycled polyester fabrics are generally as follows: 

  1. Collection: Plastic waste is collected post-consumer and pre-consumer (or post-industrial). 
  2. Sorting: Plastic waste is sorted to categorize into groups of materials and remove contaminating objects. This can be done manually and/or automatically
  3. Cleaning: Sorted waste is washed and dried 
  4. Shredding or grinding: Dried plastic flakes are shredded into small pieces or ground into granules 
  5. Reprocessing: Shredded or grounded plastic is, first, melted and, then, reprocessed using heat and pressure. These mechanical forces tend to degrade the polymers, such as shortening the length or changing the distribution, leading to inferior end products. 
  6. Creating recycled polyester fabrics: The reprocessed polymers are used and made into recycled polyester fabrics through a series of steps similar to manufacturing virgin polyester:
    1. Extrusion
    2. Loading
    3. Stretching 
    4. Drawing 
    5. Weaving or knitting
    6. Finishing 

Let’s now deep dive into a few key sustainable issues of this life-cycle stage.

Producing Mechanically Recycled Polyester Fabrics Has Relatively Lower Carbon Emissions 

Manufacturing recycled polyester fabrics tend to require less energy compared to manufacturing virgin counterparts. For example, a study shows that making shirts from recycled PET uses 30% less energy than making shirts from virgin polyester. 

Lower energy consumption contributes to reducing carbon emissions (from burning fossil fuels for energy generation). 

As an example, a recycled polyester jacket has a global warming impact equal to 82% of a jacket made with virgin polyester, according to a life-cycle assessment of jackets in the

wear2wearTM system. 

Reduced carbon emissions could be credited to removing fossil fuels in the form of raw materials and process chemicals (as they are in the production of virgin polyester).

Recycled Polyester Fabrics Produced Mechanically Tend To Require More Dyes While Producing Lower Quality Products

Recycled PET fibers have a problem of inconsistency of dye uptake, leading to increased dye usage. Dyes used on polyesters are often dispersed dyes that are insoluble in water

Wastewater with polyester dyes is difficult to treat. When it enters the environment, it could potentially cause harm to wildlife and humans

Also, the mechanical process of recycling plastics tends to degrade the polymers, such as shortening the length or changing the distribution. This leads to inferior recycled polyester fabrics as the end products. 

Consequently, mechanically recycled polyester fabrics would have a shorter lifespan than virgin polyester fabrics and chemically recycled polyester fabrics, as we will discuss later.

Also, polymer degradation in PET bottle mechanical recycling breaks production circularity: Recycled PET (rPET) can only be manufactured once. It is not possible to recycle PET bottles mechanically for a second time

How Sustainable Is The Chemical Process To Manufacture Recycled Polyester Fabrics 

The standard steps in making chemically recycled polyester fabrics are generally as following: 

  1. Collection: Plastic waste is collected post-consumer and pre-consumer (or post-industrial). 
  2. Sorting: Polyester waste is sorted to categorize into groups of materials and remove contaminating objects. This can be done manually and/or automatically. 
  3. Depolymerization: Polyester waste is broken down into monomers. This is typically a chemical process involving a catalyst(s). 
  4. Creating recycled polyester fabrics: The monomers are made into recycled polyester fabrics through a series of steps similar to manufacturing virgin polyester:
    1. Polymerization 
    2. Extrusion
    3. Loading
    4. Stretching 
    5. Drawing 
    6. Weaving or knitting
    7. Finishing 

Let’s now deep dive into a few key sustainable issues of this life-cycle stage.

Producing Chemically Recycled Polyester Fabrics Depends On Toxic Chemicals 

Chemical recycling needs toxic chemicals (acids and solvents) to dissolve the plastics. Waste from such production poses environmental and health risks if not treated properly. 

Producing Chemically Recycled Polyester Fabrics Is Relatively Energy-Intensive 

Chemical recycling of plastic needs more energy than the mechanical recycling alternative. And high energy consumption could lead to elevated global warming impact when manufacturing burns fossil fuels for energy. 

Despite being more energy and chemical-intensive, chemically recycled polyester fibers still tend to have lower environmental impacts than virgin polyester fibers. For example, chemically recycled polyester using a glycolysis process reduces COâ‚‚ emissions by 35% compared to virgin polyester.

Recycled Polyester Fabrics Produced Chemically Can Potentially Replicate The Quality of The Original Fabrics

Chemical recycling of polyester overcomes many quality problems of mechanical recycling as it can create the exact monomers to produce the original polyester waste, closing the polyester production loop. 

Where Are Recycled Polyester Fabrics Usually Manufactured

Recycled polyester production is spread worldwide, but the largest producers are in China and India.

One of the main sustainability issues with producing recycled polyester fabrics in China and India is the dependency on fossil fuels for energy generation.

Renewable energy (solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass) would significantly reduce carbon emissions at this manufacturing stage.

How Sustainable Is the Transportation of Recycled Polyester Fabrics

Transporting can be a carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of items made with recycled polyester fabrics because of the emissions associated with transporting and delivering vehicles. Discarded PET bottles and polyester fiber waste typically travel from various locations to collection hubs, processing factories, sorting centers, shops, and consumer’s houses before going to recycling centers or landfills.

In the life-cycle of recycled polyester clothes and household items, transportation typically occurs as below:

  • From places where plastic and textile waste is collected, including factories or warehouses (for pre-consumer waste) and donation centers or special containers for used garments (for post-consumer waste), to the polyester fiber manufacturing locations
  • From the recycled polyester fibers and fabrics manufacturing location to the clothing manufacturing location 
  • From the clothing manufacturing location to sorting centers/physical shops 
  • From sorting centers/physical shops to the consumer’s house 
  • From the consumer’s house to the centers for recycling/ disposing of
Traveling Distances of Recycled Polyester Fabrics Vary Depending on the Supply Chain

It is not uncommon for recycled polyester fabrics to have their supply chain spreading globally, meaning that the original point of collection, fiber reprocessing, clothing manufacturing, and finishing might happen in various towns, countries, or even continents. 

Here are some scenarios for transporting recycled polyester fabrics

  • Fabric producers might collect textile waste from factories in Pakistan, transport the waste first to sorting centers in India, then to processing factories in China, and finally to consumer markets in the US. 
  • Used PET bottles are collected in the US and Europe and sent to India to be sorted and decontaminated. Then they are sent to Italy to manufacture new recycled polyester household items. Finished recycled polyester products are finally transported worldwide, including back to the US, to sell to consumers. 

You can reduce the transporting carbon footprint by choosing recycled polyester fabrics that travel shorter distances.

The Carbon Footprint of Transporting Recycled Polyester Fabrics Depends Largely on the Vehicle of Transportation 

During its life-cycle, a piece of recycled polyester clothing can be transported using various types of vehicles, including:

  • Large container ships 
  • Planes 
  • Freight trains 
  • Long-distance trucks 
  • Short-distance delivering vans 

And these various types of transportation vehicles have different carbon footprint impacts: 

For example, as a consumer, you can choose not to pick the fast delivery option when ordering recycled polyester clothing items and accessories to reduce the carbon footprint of your order. 

How Sustainable Is the Usage of Recycled Polyester Fabrics

The usage of recycled polyester fabrics is generally considered unsustainable because washing polyester clothes during the usage phase contributes to the increasingly serious problem of microplastic presence in marine environments. However, energy usage for washing, drying, and ironing polyester fabrics could be relatively low. Also, (chemically) recycled polyester fabrics could be highly durable. 

A major sustainability issue with using polyester fabrics, recycled polyester fabrics included, is the microplastics released into the environment due to washing the material. 

According to a study, polyester fabrics washed in domestic washing machines released about 490,000 tiny synthetic particles per wash. Plastic-based textiles, including polyester, nylon, acrylic, and others, are responsible for around half a million tons of plastic microfibers shed into the oceans annually as these fabrics are washed. At sea or in other water bodies, these microplastics cause harm to fishes that ingest them and numerous animals (including us humans) further up the food chain. 

However, chemically recycled polyester tends to have the same physical properties as virgin polyester, which is generally durable. 

The strength, resilience, and tenacity of the fibers formed during spinning mean that polyester is difficult to tear. Additionally, this material is resistant to damage from weather, mildew, and moths. 

Durability increases the sustainability of a material because you don’t need to replace clothes made with such material too frequently (thus, no need for more resources to make the new one). 

Also, polyester fabrics are wrinkle-resistant, saving energy for ironing during the usage phase. Ironing, together with washing and drying (the usage phase), accounts for a high share of energy consumption in the life cycle of clothing

As a consumer, you can reduce the environmental impact of your usage by maximizing the number of wears between washes, avoid unnecessary hot washes or machining drying. Also, the longer you use a piece of clothing, the lesser the environmental impact of each wear. 

How Sustainable Is the End-of-Life of Recycled Polyester Fabrics

The end-of-life stage for recycled polyester is not sustainable because this fossil-based material is not biodegradable.

Traditional fossil-based polyester is not biodegradable, whether it is virgin or recycled. This material still takes centuries to decompose in natural environments

In comparison, natural fibers such as wool or cotton are fully biodegradable. For example, cotton typically takes 11 weeks to decompose.

How Circular Are Products Made of Recycled Polyester Fabrics

In the textile industry, a circular economy is designed to keep products and materials in use for as long as possible, especially through reusing and recycling. It also covers regenerating natural systems that support the industry and reducing polluted waste released into such systems.

“The circular economy is a systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.”

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

As a whole, the textile industry is almost linear: 97% of the input are new resource.

Recycling post-consumer polyester fabrics is a complicated and expensive process. It is more common for polyester fibers to be blended with cotton fibers than to be woven on their own to produce fabrics. 

However, the technology for separating these poly-cotton blends and recycling constituent fibers currently requires much more energy than producing virgin polyester. Thus, in commercial settings, poly-cotton blends are most likely to be down-cycled for use as insulation and furniture stuffing. Yet, there are some innovative developments in this area.

Due to such difficulties, most recycled polyester fabrics are made with plastic bottles rather than discarded polyester fabrics. 

How Can You Buy Recycled Polyester Fabrics More Sustainably

The key to sustainably buying recycled polyester products is to check on relevant environmental and original certifications.

  • Recycled Claim Standard (RCS): The Textile Exchange RCS was originally developed as an international, voluntary standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled input and chain of custody. 
  • The Global Recycled Standard (GRS): The Global Recycled Standard (GRS) is an international, voluntary, full product standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled Content, chain of custody, social and environmental practices, and chemical restrictions. It can be used for any product with more than 20% recycled material. 
  • OEKO-TEX®: OEKO-TEX® labels aim to ensure that products pose no risk to human health (i.e. containing banned chemicals). 
  • STeP by OEKO-TEX®: STeP by OEKO-TEX® is an independent certification system for brands, retailers, and manufacturers from the textile and leather industry. It communicates organizational environmental measures, including reducing carbon footprint and water usage.

Some certifications are signaling brands’ efforts toward lowered environmental impacts and a circular economy are:

  • B Corp Certification: The label B Corp is a certification reserved for for-profit companies. Certified holders are assessed on their social and environmental impacts. 
  • Cradle2Cradle certification: Cradle2Cradle provides a standardized approach to material circularity. It assesses whether products have been suitably designed and made with the circular economy in mind covering five critical categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.

Where to Buy Sustainable Recycled Polyester Fabrics 

We have established throughout the life-cycle assessment that recycled polyester fabrics are generally sustainable, mainly thanks to the highly sustainable sourcing stage. Regardless we’ve put together a list of brands using recycled polyester fabrics. This list is in alphabetical order. 

Why Is It Important to Buy Products Made of More Sustainable Fabrics

It is important to buy products made of more sustainable fabrics because a sustainable textile industry has a lower carbon footprint, helps save natural resources, and is better for forests, animals, and humans. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces Your Carbon Footprint 

The production of clothing and footwear is estimated to contribute 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than all international flights and shipping combined. If the fashion industry were a country, it would be the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide

One way to reduce the carbon footprint of the clothes you buy is to opt for sustainable fabrics. Sustainable fabrics, which are often made with natural or recycled fibers, have relatively low carbon footprints compared to petroleum-based fabrics. For example, organic cotton made in the US has a carbon footprint of 2.35 kg CO2 (per ton of spun fiber) – a quarter of polyester’s carbon footprint.

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces the Demand For Natural Resources and Waste Management

The textile industry uses water and land to grow cotton and other fibers. It is estimated that 79 billion cubic meters of water were used for the sector worldwide in 2015. For example, producing a single cotton t-shirt requires as much water as one person drinks for 2.5 years (2,700 liters of fresh water).

Worse yet, the textile economy is vastly more linear than circular: the largest amount of resources used in clothes ended up in landfill (instead of being recycled to remake clothes). According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation,

  • Less than 3% of materials used in the textile economy in 2015 came from recycled sources.
  • In other words, more than 97% of resources used in making clothes are extracted new. 

When clothing items are disposed of within a short period of time – under a year in the case of half of the fast fashion clothes – the natural systems that provide raw materials for fabrics don’t have enough time to recover and regenerate, which could lead to ecological breakdown. 

Sustainable fabrics are made with less water and emissions while lasting longer:

  • Because they are durable, you don’t need to buy new clothes too often. 
  • Thus, you help reduce to pressure to extract more resources for making new items. 

Similarly, making and consuming sustainable fabrics made with recycled materials reduces the demand for virgin materials while helping tackle waste management. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages the Sustainable Management of Forests

Sustainable plant-based fabrics are made with raw materials from forests and plantations that are sustainably managed, such as complying with FSC standards

When you buy sustainable plant-based fabrics, you discourage unsustainable forestry practices like illegal logging. You can help reduce deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the effect of climate change. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Animals 

The fashion industry is rife with animal mistreatment when it comes to making animal-based fabrics like cashmere or leather. Every year, billions of animals suffer and die for clothing and accessories.

Buying sustainable vegan alternatives can help to reduce the pressure on raising more and more animals to meet the demand for animal-based fabrics while sacrificing their well-being and lives. 

Suppose you have to buy fabrics made with, for example, leather or wool; make sure you only choose brands committed to cruelty-free products. In that case, you help advocate better treatments for animals raised within the textile industry. 

Using Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Textile Workers 

Recent statistics from UNICEF estimated as many as 170 million child laborers worldwide, many of whom were engaged in some form of work in the textile industry. They don’t get paid minimum wages and often work long hours. 

When you buy sustainable fabrics from brands transparent about the working conditions at their factories, you discourage the use of child labor and help promote better working conditions for textile workers.

Final Thoughts

Recycled polyester fabrics are generally sustainable. Particularly, mechanically recycled polyester fabrics are considered one of the most sustainable textile materials. 

While recycling plastic and textile waste to make recycled polyester lifts the pressure on resources, including nonrenewable fossil reserves, the end products still have the same usage and end-of-life challenges as virgin polyester. 

So to make it more sustainable:

  1. Opt for recycled polyester fabrics if your clothing items don’t require regular washing. (Think shoes and rain jackets)
  2. Buy second-hand when possible.
  3. While using recycled polyester products, maximize the number of wear between washes, and keep the items as long as possible.
  4. At the end of recycled polyester products, upcycle the material to extend its usage and arrange for it to be recycled or properly disposed of. 

Stay impactful,



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