What is recycled polyester and why do we use it?

By the time you finished reading this sentence, more than 1000 plastic bottles (mainly made with polyester) would have been thrown away worldwide, and most of these end up in landfills or in the ocean. From there, the bottles would stay around for hundreds, if not thousands of years before they are broken down. You’ve probably seen images of the Great Pacific garbage patch consisting of debris, mostly plastic, covering miles and miles of the ocean.   

 

Image by Matthew Gollop from Pixabay

Plastics has been bashed and labelled as EVIL in recent years, mostly because it’s one of the most durable materials out there and does not decompose easily. We’ve seen striking images of plastic in seabird’s guts and turtles strangling in plastic, and these images make us rethink about the use of plastic. Another major concern about plastic is that it is derived from petroleum, which is not a sustainable source and the exploration and drilling damages the environment and our eco-system.

 

If something is so bad, why was plastic created in the first place?

The birth of plastic was initially intended to create a material that is durable and affordable so it can be used as an alternative to paper and cotton, which back in the old days, break and damage very easily. As the material is so strong and reusable, the use of plastic gained momentum, accelerated by the lower cost of production, it spread from use in packaging, such as bags and wrappings, and eventually into clothing.

 

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

 

Being an affordable, strong and wrinkle-resistant material with very low shrinkage, the rise of plastic was inevitable in the textile industry. The most commonly used type of plastic in the textile industry is polyester and by 2020, polyester already accounts for over half of the annual fibre production worldwide. In the performance textile industry, polyester has taken textile technology not previously possible with natural fibres and became indispensable due to it can be made very lightweight and strong, with very little water retention and very versatile in using with additional functional finishes.

 

However, with the rise of environmental issues surrounding polyester, the industry started thinking about how to reduce the impact of this wonder material and make it more sustainable? The revolutionary moment came when recycled polyester was introduced.

 

So what is recycled polyester? 

Recycled polyester is a type of plastic that is produced by recycling existing plastic products into new materials. It can be produced either by mechanical recycling whereby plastic such as bottles are collected, washed and chopped into pieces and melted to make chips (material for making new products), or chemical recycling where chemicals are used to dissolve plastic products and turn them into the basic building block for plastic, called monomers.

 

 

The most common source of recycled polyester used in apparel is plastic bottles made by the mechanical recycling method due to its relative simplicity and the exclusion of additional chemicals. The first piece of recycled polyester clothing was created by Patagonia back in the 90s, but due to its higher cost, it only accounts for less than 20% of the polyester that the world use today.  

 

 
Photo by Saikat Ghosh from Pexels

 

At Koup, we believe in reducing waste and reusing materials as much as possible and is why we use recycled polyester whenever we have to use polyester. Besides from reducing plastic waste, the main reasons we use recycled polyester are the below

 

  1. Durability – polyester is a strong and durable fibre
  2. Can be made ultralight and versatile as performance material
  3. Reduces energy used – 59% less than virgin polyester
  4. Reduces CO2 & other greenhouse gases produced compared to virgin polyester
  5. Reduce single-use plastic waste (landfill and ocean) & avoid petroleum source

 

To conclude, we believe no materials are invented with bad intent, and it’s our job to understand why we use the material and how we can reduce its environmental impact. Polyester when designed purposefully, and recycled properly, can benefit the world hugely.