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Since the 1990s, the application of recycled PET use in fashion garments has grown increasingly. While a wide range of brands adopt these acts of recycling polyester to include in their garments; the use of PET-recycled fibers has become more popular as time passed by. Statistics show that the use of recycled polyester has almost doubled its share in total production between 2008 and 2021. It has a lot to do with sustainability, or at least eco-friendly practices: According to Forbes, the use of recycled PET resulted in a 75% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, when compared to virgin PET. On the other hand, one of the initiative brands on the cloth production from PET bottles to fibers, Oceanness expresses that this process of recycling provides 55% less carbon emission release, 50% less use of energy, 20% less use of water than producing virgin polyester and 99% less use of water compared to the cotton-clothing production. As these all strengthen our sense that the use of r-PET in fashion is beneficial, there are still some serious doubts about this issue: Maybe we should recycle PET bottles to be bottles again and keep fashion out of the picture.
Recycling PETs is an environmentally responsible act, though it cannot be “fully sustainable”. As a non-biodegradable substance, polyester's potential of releasing micro-plastics is never off after recycling. Therefore, the micro pieces of plastics would keep infusing various surfaces from food to water, and to air – there, the major problem around the basis of circularity appears. According to the film by Changing Markets Foundation and City to Sea; bottle-to-bottle recycling is the best way to sustain the circular system. Though theoretically recycling PET bottles to fibers is an eco-conscious act, practically it fails. The r-PET used in the garments is often blended with cotton or other fibers, which makes them “wearable” and “healthier” for consumers. However, blending the r-PET with other fibers eventually blocks them from being recycled again. When including them in fashion blocks their chance to place themselves in circularity, bottle-to-bottle recycling embodies a better alternative: Bottle-to-bottle recycling makes the PET be used over 10 times. According to Zero Waste Europe, using r-PET for the clothes is “breaking the loop”. Considering that the Circular Study on PET Bottle-To-Bottle Recycling proves that even eleven cycles do not create a loss of quality in r-PET materials; shortening its life cycle to a few times by placing it in the fast-fashion is a direct invitation for a less sustainable future.
Then, it is not problematic to say that recycling PET bottles are good and necessary. The catalyst is how to deal with them after having them recycled. Zero Waste Europe reports that only 26% of recycled PET from bottles is used for textile-ready pellets; there, it can be said that there is no huge contribution to sustainability, either. Changing Markets Foundation states that often the r-PET garments are used for greenwashing. Acknowledging that the r-PET use in fashion is often just an advertisement technique for brands than fulfilling an actual motivation towards sustainability. Should it mean ‘canceling’ all the brands that use r-PET? It is important to interpret the issue under the umbrella of sustainability in general. Just like any controversial application in the industry, checking the brands’ accountability and their specific story of recycling gains importance. A PET bottle being recycled into fibers is still better than throwing them away. However, we have to reconsider buying clothes that are made of r-PET because each garment that is produced is another plastic that has its life cycle shortened, compared to being recycled to another bottle.