Polyester is the most widely recycled plastic in the world. Suston turns to expert Karla Magruder for a basic lesson on the subject of recycled polyester.
What does recycled polyester actually mean?
Polyester is a manmade fiber that is made from oil and synthesized from petrochemical products by a process called polymerization. As a raw material, it is a clear, strong and flexible plastic that is used for PET – a short term for polyester – bottles and a lot of other purposes. It is 100 percent recyclable and it can be done by either mechanical or chemical processes. The recycled polyester used for textiles is most commonly from PET bottles.
”Recycled polyester” is often used when marketing products as more sustainable. Is it a claim that is always true?
Not necessarily. If you use the term “more sustainable” you should define what the product is compared too. Check if it is “100 percent recycled” – a lot of the time it is a blend of virgin and recycled polyester that is used. And most importantly: the claim has to be certified by a third party.
There are a lot of these labels and certificates on the market. Which ones do you recommend that the end consumer look for?
The Recycled Claim Standard and The Global Recycled Standard both verify the recycled input material, and track it all the way to the final product. The latter also ensures responsible social, environmental practices and chemical use through production.
Is it true that recycled polyester is a more expensive material than virgin polyester?
Yes, that is true. One reason is that virgin polyester is produced in much higher volumes. International demand is growing and that will help with making recycled polyester price competitive. Multinational sporting goods companies, such as Nike, were early in their use of recycled polyester. In recent years, even the giants in the fashion industry have begun to use it more and more. In the long term, I believe that prices will level out, especially if companies and industries work together and provide clear signals to the suppliers, so that they dare to invest.
Can new polyester clothes be made from old ones, so that the loop is closed?
Yes absolutely. Several companies have the technology needed to recycle polyester clothing. The problem is rather the collection, distribution and costs. The infrastructure needs to be built in order for textiles to be recycled on a larger scale. Here too, companies and trade associations in sports, fashion and outdoor could collaborate more to quicken the pace.
Is it also possible to recycle garments made from polyester mixed with other materials?
In some cases, it is technically possible, for example blends with polyester and cotton. But it is still at the pilot level. The challenge is to find processes that can be scaled up properly and we are not there yet.