Recycled Polyester - Is it really sustainable?
Recycled Polyester has been quite a buzz in the fashion industry for a few years now. Very recently, it came in the limelight again when the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, wore a jacket made of recycled plastic bottles at an event named ‘Unbottled’ by Indian Oil in Bengaluru. It seemed that sustainable fashion was finally getting the limelight it deserved.
Recycled polyester sounds so sustainable and interesting, doesn't it? If plastic can be converted into clothing, then it’s a win-win for all - clothing brands, consumers and the environment. But is it really the case? Let’s find out.
How is Recycled Polyester made?
Recycled Polyester is also called rPET (yes, same as the PET bottles you get your soft drinks in), and often uses less energy during its production.
Polyester can be recycled in 2 different ways: In mechanical recycling, plastic is melted. Only a few repetitions of this process are allowed before the fibre starts to degrade. Another way is where the plastic molecules are broken down and transformed into yarn. This is chemical recycling. Although it is more expensive, this method preserves the original fiber's quality and enables endless recycling of the material.
Mechanical recycling is the most employed process of the two because of lesser expenses. It has to be noted, however, that no recycled polyester is made purely from one material alone. Virgin polyester and other materials are still mixed, not making the fabric completely recyclable and sustainable.
Is it really sustainable?
Or an upcoming environmental hazard in disguise? Yes, it recycles plastic and looks like an environmentally friendly alternative. Unfortunately, that is what it is- it just "looks" eco friendly. It isn’t, in reality. Let’s see the reasons why:
Impossible to recycle again - In effect, after being converted to clothes once, it's almost difficult with the current technology to recycle it, leading to clothes being piled up in landfills. Recycling gets worse when it is blended with other fibres like cotton. While plastic is processed into making a polyestrous fabric, it is still plastic in essence, taking years to decompose and harming the soil.
More plastic production - To justify their usage of PET, corporates will use and produce more PET packaging and claim that the same will be recycled into fabrics! This only means piling more plastic in the world.
License to continue the overproduction model - Fast Fashion is known for infusing its consumers with the ‘use and throw’ mindset. Recycled Polyester does very little to do away with this mindset. It sometimes favours this mindset, even, by garnishing itself with concepts like ‘Recyclable’ and ‘Sustainable.’
While Recycled Polyester may sound helpful for the short term, it only means more and more plastic in the world in the long run. The biggest of fashion brands, looking at the growing demand, will consider such fabrics to label themselves as ‘Sustainable’, while continuing with their unsustainable business models . This is nothing but Greenwashing, misleading consumers into thinking they are making eco-friendly purchases, while they are just being trapped into the unsustainable cycle of Fast Fashion.
With this, we urge you to think and comment, if R-PET, or Recycled Polyester, is really a good alternative. What will an increase in its demand do? Is it really helpful? Every new innovation, while it may sound helpful, has to be taken with a pinch of salt and some critical thinking.