Polyester is a term used to describe a group of polymers or plastics which are blended with other fibers to create a highly durable fabric. This synthetic fabric is one of the most commonly used fabrics in the world, but its environmental footprint remains a cause for concern.1 In an effort to improve its sustainability, major retailers have begun to source polyester from recycled plastic. Recycled polyester is lauded as being more sustainable than virgin polyester, partly because it is significantly less energy-intensive.2
For the creation of polyester from recycled plastic, there are several steps involved in the process. One application of this recycling process involves the use of plastic water bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which serves as the building block for the polymerization process that acts as the first step in the creation of polyester.2
The initial steps in this process include the destruction of the PET-based water bottles in order to produce smaller particles, which are strung together by passing through a spinneret to form yarn.2 After this step, the yarn is then wound up in spools and run through a crimping machine to produce the desired texture before it is further dyed and knitted into polyester fabric.2 To learn more about creating polyester from recycled PET-based products, please click here to be directed to the video by How It’s Made detailing the entire process.
Other positive environmental impacts of using recycled polyester include the reduced reliance on energy sources used for polyester production such as petroleum as well as the diversion of PET-based bottles from landfills through the recycling process.2 Additionally, research suggests that polyester fabrics made from higher recycled content shed significantly fewer microfibers than those with lower recycled content.3
Despite these beneficial aspects, recycled polyester and its uses also come with challenges and difficulties. Recycled polyester has lower tensile strength and crystallinity when compared to newly produced polyester, and therefore it is associated with higher shear and bending capabilities, which are undesirable qualities for clothing.4 Additionally, each round of recycling leads to more and more reduction of overall fiber quality, which essentially results in the eventual total discarding of this less usable form of recycled polyester.5
For that matter, the two organizations Textile Exchange and Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action have launched an initiative related to recycled polyester. This challenge gathers 85 brands including Adidas, the H&M Group and the Inditex Group to support the growth of the market of recycled polyester. Through this challenge, brands are required to aim for the most ambitious targets possible in order to achieve an increase of the share of recycled polyester in garments to 45%, in comparison to the current average of 14%, by 2025. The overall objective for the two organizations is to achieve a 90% market share of recycled polyester by 2030.6
- Van Elven, M. (2018, November 15). How sustainable is recycled polyester? Fashion United. Retrieved from: https://fashionunited.uk/news/fashion/how-sustainable-is-recycled-polyester/2018111540000#:~:text=Even%20clothes%20that%20are%20100,the%20traditional%20fiber%20making%20process.
- Bradley Ross, C. (2015, January 29). What’s the deal with recycled polyester? The Sustainable Fashion Collective. Retrieved from: https://www.the-sustainable-fashion-collective.com/2015/01/29/what-is-recycled-polyester
- Frost, H., Zambrano, M.C., Leonas, K., Pawlak, J.J. & Venditti, R.A. (2020). Do recycled cotton or polyester fibres influence the shedding propensity of fabrics during laundering? AATCC Journal of Research, 7, 32-41. Retrieved from: https://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/aatcc/jor/2020/00000007/a00101s1/art00005
- Majumdar, A., Shukla, S., Singh, A.A., & Arora, S. (2020). Circular fashion: Properties of fabrics made from mechanically recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 161. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0921344920302330
- Chua, J.M. (2020, March 10). Is recycled polyester green or greenwashing? Common Objective. Retrieved from: https://www.commonobjective.co/article/is-recycled-polyester-green-or-greenwashing
- Friedman, A. “ These Big Name Brands are taking the recycled poly challenge”, April 28th. Retrieved from: https://sourcingjournal.com/topics/raw-materials/textile-exchange-2025-recycled-polyester-challenge-adidas-nudie-jeans-vf-276709/