You’ve probably heard that synthetic fabrics aren’t good news for the environment, but what if they’re made using existing materials?
To fully understand the virgin polyester vs recycled polyester debate, let’s look at them separately first.
Virgin polyester: popular and cheap… but with a high environmental cost
What is virgin polyester exactly?
Virgin polyester is a synthetic fibre created through a chemical reaction involving petroleum, and it’s the most common form of PET (polyethylene terephthalate).
So, basically, polyester is… plastic that you can wear!
Why is polyester clothing so popular?
- Absorbs less moisture than most fabrics
- Ideal for sports clothing
- Cheaper than most natural fibres
- No cultivating land nor pesticides required
Photo credit: NASA
Unfortunately, despite these practical benefits, polyester is also one of the worst fabrics for the planet:
- It comes from petroleum, a non-renewable resource
- Its production relies on a carbon-heavy process that’s responsible for 40% of fashion’s emissions
- Polyester is not biodegradable: it can take 200 years to decompose in landfills!
- It’s hard and usually impossible to recycle, especially if blended with other materials (like poly/cotton clothes)
- Whenever washed, polyester clothing releases microplastics that can end up in the ocean
A new alternative: recycled polyester
First produced in 1993 by Patagonia and Polartec, recycled polyester has become more popular over the past few years since the problems behind virgin polyester have been exposed.
Is it actually eco-friendly, though, or is it greenwashing?
What is recycled polyester material?
Also called rPET since it uses PET as raw material, recycled polyester is a fibre made using post-consumer plastic waste, and especially bottles or fishnets retrieved from the ocean.
Is recycled polyester better?
Yes, recycled polyester is much better than virgin polyester from an environmental point of view!
While it has its same strength and elasticity, it brings several sustainable benefits because it bypasses its petroleum-based production process.
To put the virgin polyester vs recycled polyester debate into perspective, the latter reduces:
- energy use by 50%
- CO2 emissions by 75%
- water consumption by 90%
- plastic waste: 1 kg of recycled polyester saves 60 plastic bottles!
The problems with recycled polyester
Let’s be realistic, though: when comparing virgin polyester vs recycled polyester, we’re still talking about the same material.
rPET poses the same challenges and environmental problems when it comes to:
- the fact that it’s not biodegradable
So, what is the difference between virgin polyester and recycled polyester?
The difference between virgin polyester and recycled polyester is that the former is created from scratch using fossil fuels, whereas the latter relies on post-consumer plastic.
While it maintains some of the problems of virgin polyester, recycled options help reduce waste and energy consumption, which makes them a better option for the environment.
Polyester vs recycled polyester clothing: how you can wear it more sustainably
- Choose the most sustainable fabrics and recycled polyester over virgin polyester whenever possible: some of our favourite brands using rPET are Superstainable (outdoorwear), Lanius (wide range of ethical clothes), Loenatix (streetwear and shirts with a story), and ACBC (footwear)
- Only buy polyester clothes that you actually need
- Wash your synthetic clothes less often to reduce microplastic shedding
- Don’t bin your polyester clothes! Fix, upcycle, donate, or sell them to prolong their lifespan
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