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Recycled polyester

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What is recycled polyester?

Recycled polyester (rPET) is a synthetic textile fiber and is obtained by melting the plastic and trimming it into one nuova polyester fiber.

There is a lot of media attention towards recycled polyester made from plastic bottles or containers thrown away by consumers, but actually recycled polyester can come from both pre- and post-consumer plastics.

While recycling plastics sounds like a good idea, not everyone agrees that recycled polyester is associated with the concept of sustainable fashion.

So let's see together the pros and cons of the recycled polyester, so as to answer any doubts and dispel some myths.

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Advantages of recycled polyester

First of all the recycled polyester prevents plastic from ending up in landfills, incinerators, or oceans. Recycled polyester gives a second life to materials that are not biodegradable.

According l 'NGO Ocean Conservancy over 8 million tons of plastic is lost in the oceans every year, joining the already 250 million tons already circulating in marine environments (2020). At this rate, by 2050 the oceans will contain more plastic than fish.

Plastic was found in the stomachs of 60% of seabirds and in 100% of all sea turtle species analyzed (some animals confuse plastic with food and end up ingesting it).

Le microplastics instead they are everywhere, from alpine lakes to glaciers, to the water of our taps and to the food of animal origin that we ingest (especially fish).

As for landfills, the US Environmental Protection Agency reported that this country's landfills received 26 million tons of plastic in 2015 alone. While the EU estimates that the same amount is generated annually by its citizens. .

Clothes are undoubtedly a big part of the problem: in the UK a relationship of the Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP) estimated that around 140 million pounds worth of clothes end up in landfills every year.

From a plastic bottle to recycled polyester thread

Il recycled polyester it has the same characteristics as virgin polyester, but requires fewer resources to be produced.

Il recycled polyester appears to be the same as virgin polyester in terms of quality, but its production requires 59% less energy than virgin polyester (according to a 2017 study).

WRAP estimates that manufacturing recycled polyester reduces CO2 emissions by 32% compared to regular polyester, and when looking at life cycle assessments (LCAs), recycled polyester scores significantly better than virgin polyester.

Il recycled polyester it can help reduce the extraction of crude oil and natural gas from Earth.

"The use of recycled polyester reduces our dependence on oil as a source of raw materials", says the website of the outdoor brand Patagonia, known above all for the production of fleece derived from used plastic bottles, unusable production waste and worn-out clothing.

“It reduces waste, thus extending the life of landfills and reducing toxic emissions from incinerators. It also helps to promote nuothere recycling streams for polyester garments that are no longer wearable "adds Patagonia.

"As polyester accounts for around 60% of world PET production - around double that used in plastic bottles - the development of a non-virgin supply chain for polyester fiber has the potential to have a massive impact on requirements. energy and global resources ", claims American clothing brand Nau.

Disadvantages of recycled polyester

The recycling of fabrics to be transformed into nuothere yarn still has limitations.

Many of our garments are not made from polyester alone, but rather from a blend of polyester and other materials. In this case it is more difficult, if not impossible, to recycle them. We talked about it in our article The emblematic recycling of clothes, utopia or reality?

“In some cases it is technically possible, for example blending with polyester and cotton. But it is still at the pilot level. The challenge is to find processes that can be scaled correctly and we are not there yet ", said Karla Magruder of Textile Exchange.

In addition to the blends of materials, some laminations and finishes applied to fabrics can even make them "non-recyclable" and therefore to be destined for incinerators.

Also fabrics in 100% polyester they cannot be recycled forever. There are two ways to recycle polyester: mechanically and chemically. “Mechanical recycling consists of taking a plastic bottle, washing it, shredding it and then transforming it into nuoin a polyester chip, which then goes through the traditional fiber production process ”.

“While chemical recycling consists of taking a waste plastic product and returning it to its original monomers, which are indistinguishable from virgin polyester. These can then return to the normal polyester production system " explained Mrs. Magruder.

The most of recycled polyester it is obtained through mechanical recycling, as it is cheaper and does not require chemicals other than the detergents needed to clean the incoming materials.

"Most people believe that plastic can be recycled indefinitely, but every time the plastic is heated it degenerates, so the next iteration of the polymer is degraded and the plastic must be used to make lower quality products", said Patty Grossman, co-founder of Two Sisters Ecotextiles.

Textile Exchange, however, it states on its website that polyester can be recycled for many years: "Recycled polyester garments aim to be continuously recycled without degradation of quality", the organization wrote, adding that the polyester garment cycle has the potential to become "A closed loop system".

Textile and recycled polyester thread factory

Those who follow Grossman's line of thinking argue that the world should produce and consume less plastic in general.

If the public believes that everything they throw away can be recycled, they will likely see no problem with continuing to consume disposable plastic items. Unfortunately, only a small part of the plastic we use is recycled: according to the U.S. Environmental ProtectionAgency, in 2015 only 9% of all discarded plastic was recycled in the United States.

Those who have a less celebratory view towards the recycled polyester, demand that fashion brands and shoppers be encouraged to prioritize as much as possible natural fibers.

However, recycling polyester does have an impact on the environment, according to Grossman, a problem with the polyester recycling process is that the chips generated by mechanical recycling can vary in color: some are white, while others are creamy yellow, making it difficult to obtain the color consistency.

"Some dyers find it difficult to get a white, so they use chlorine-based bleaches to whiten the base", he explains. "The inconsistency in dye absorption makes it difficult to achieve good color consistency from batch to batch and this can lead to high levels of recoloring, which requires a lot of water, energy and chemicals"

Additionally, some studies suggest that PET bottles lose antimony, a substance known to be carcinogenic.

Antimony oxide is generally used as a catalyst in the PET and polyester bottle manufacturing process. Health agencies around the world say there is no reason to worry, as the quantities are too small to be considered toxic (500 mg / kg of PET). Textile Exchange states that "find substitutes for antimony"Is one of the"challenges"To be addressed to improve the process polyester recycling.

There is also an academic debate on the calculation of CO2 emissions in the comparison between virgin and polyester recycled polyester “Because the impact of the first life of the fiber is not included in the overall environmental assessment of recycled fibers. If this were the case, the results would be different ", according to the report from the US Federal Office of the Environment.

Some claim that recycled polyester prevents plastic from reaching the ocean, but that's not true. Like virgin polyester recycled polyester also releases microplastics with each wash.

Although, according to an Italian study, the microplastics released from recycled polyester are less numerous than those released from virgin polyester:

According to a recent study from Plymouth University in the UK, each cycle of a washing machine can release more than 700.000 plastic fibers into the environment. An article published in 2011 in the journal Environmental Science Technology found that microfibers made up 85 percent of man-made debris on coasts around the world.

So it doesn't matter if the garments are made from recycled or virgin polyester, both contribute to microplastic pollution. And the cotton? is not far behind. It does not release microplastics but microfibers, which are biodegradable and therefore cause less damage than microplastics, but these still release dangerous chemicals into the water as they act as "carriers" for the same substances.

Characteristics of Recycled Polyester

Fabric Quality:

The qualities of the fabric may vary based on its blending with other fibers. Example: with Elastan or Lycra you gain in elasticity.

  Does not shrink / discolor
  Quick drying

Ecological Characteristics:

The ecological characteristics of the fabric may vary based on textile certifications or blending with other fabrics.

  Natural - Artificial - Synthetic  
  No GMOs
  Natural raw material
  Recycled raw material
  Mechanical extraction
  Chemical extraction
  Energy saving
  Sustainability class  

Textile Certifications:

The certifications that can be assigned to the fabric, but which vary according to different factors: manufacturing company, fashion brand, blending.

Global Organic Textile Standard
Organic Content Standard
Global Recycle Standard
Second Life Plastic
Animal Free
Fair Wear Foundation

This card can only be found on www.vestilanatura.it

Recycled polyester clothing

More and more fashion brands are using the recycled polyester for both women's and men's clothing, but not only, since today it is also used for shoes, bags and accessories and is part of what we define circular fashion.

It is certainly a good compromise for a more sustainable fashion, in fact it keeps all the technical characteristics of virgin polyester unaltered, those that have made this material the most used in the world.

It also offers the great possibility of having different applications thanks to the mixing with chemicals that can make it water-repellent, anti-bacterial, breathable, etc., as needed.

Buy recycled polyester products

A showcase where you can find Sustainable, ethical and cruelty free fashion brands guaranteed by the supervision of our association:

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Is recycled polyester better or virgin polyester?

While not a highly sustainable material there is no doubt that it is better to choose a garment made from recycled polyester rather than virgin polyester, but possibly 100% and not blended with other fibers.

In any case, it is always good to choose 100% fabrics of a single material rather than blended ones, since as we have seen these are not recyclable.

We do not consider it among the most sustainable fabrics, but thinking about all the plastic that is around, we certainly can not help but exploit its potential.

Maintenance of ecological fabrics

How do you wash recycled polyester?

The environmental impact of laundry detergents and household cleaners is devastating to our planet, so we highly recommend using ecological detergents.

The washing of garments in recycled polyester can be carried out either by hand or in the washing machine, since this fiber is not very sensitive to spinning or hot water (except for tights) and, therefore, no special precautions are necessary, if not the preliminary reading of the label, which will indicate the need for any separate washing or specific treatments, such as not drying in the dryer.

Machine wash

Normally, garments in recycled polyester demonstrate excellent color retention; therefore, it is possible to proceed with a mixed washing in the washing machine, with a program for synthetic garments and which therefore does not exceed 30 or 40 degrees.

The centrifuge must be delicate and, in any case, not exceeding 800 rpm; if you wash the tights in the washing machine, it is advisable to first put them inside a netting bag, which will prevent the threads from breaking and damaging the fibers.

To wash recycled polyester in the washing machine it is advisable to use a mild liquid detergent, preferably ecological; Although recycled polyester is famous for its resistance, the mixture with elastane and other fibers that increase its elasticity could make the garments more sensitive to the action of washing powder.


Hand washing garments made from recycled polyester is an operation that requires a basin, warm water and liquid detergent; after rinsing, wring a little and apply normally.

Do you want to wash your clothes while minimizing water pollution?

  1. We have selected one of the most sustainable detergent and detergent brands click here to buy an ecological detergent
  2. You could use a Washing Ball to wash without using detergents click here to buy a washing ball
  3. You could use the nuovissimo Ecoegg, a nice ecological egg with which you can do about 720 washes click here to buy the ecoegg egg


Are you looking for more information on recycled polyester? Ask your questions using the form below.

Ask Your Question!

Our answers:

Where can I buy recycled polyester fabric?

Vesti la natura has created a table with more than 40 sustainable materials, their respective applications in the textile sector, and their suppliers (even for small quantities). To access the table we ask you to donate a small financial contribution to our association. Click here for more information.

Does recycled polyester release micro-plastics during washing?

Yes, being a synthetic fabric it can release microplastics during washing.

Is recycled polyester biodegradable?

No, it is not biodegradable as it is a synthetic fabric, but on the other hand it is 100% recyclable.

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