Let's Talk About Plastic
According to EarthDay.org, Americans go through about 1.2 million plastic bottles per minute, and 91% of that plastic is not recycled. That adds up to billions of plastic bottles ending up in landfills and oceans every year.
Today, most product companies still don’t use recycled polyester to make bags or other accessories. Instead, they use virgin polyester, which contributes to the toxic linear economy model of taking more of a resource than necessary, making a product with it, and then sending that product to a landfill to waste away when there is no more use for it.
The manufacturing process for polyester has a huge negative impact on the environment. It uses massive amounts of water, chemicals and fossil fuels and is responsible for polluting wastewater with microplastics, chemicals, and other toxic materials.
Polyester is also not sustainable. The main components in the plastic fibers that make up this fabric come from petroleum, which is a nonrenewable resource.
Still, it can’t be denied that polyester makes a great fabric. It is durable, washable, and easy to print or dye in a wide range of colors. But for companies like Pure Sage that are environmentally conscious, there’s an eco-friendly alternative that comes with all the same advantages of virgin polyester. It’s called rPET, or recycled polyester.
What Is rPET?
Recycled polyester (rRPET) is a fabric made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is a type of plastic.
PET is a synthesis of ethylene glycol and dimethyl terephthalate, both of which are derived from petroleum. It’s the same material that virgin polyester fibers are made from, but the recycled version of the fabric draws its source of PET mostly from discarded clear plastic water bottles.
rPET VS Virgin Polyester
Is there any real difference between recycled polyester and virgin polyester? Let’s compare the materials, sustainability, and cost for both fabrics.
For starters, virgin polyester is made directly from PET, not existing plastic objects like plastic bottles. It requires the PET to be made first from refined petroleum, rather than collected from discarded waste.
When it comes to the end result, though, there isn’t a big difference between recycled polyester and the virgin kind. They are both essentially the same thing: fabric made of PET fibers woven together.
How Is rPET Made?
The process to make rPET begins with collecting sources of PET, which in Pure Sage's case is plastic water and soda bottles that ended up as waste in our oceans.
Step 1: PET bottles are collected and sterilized.
Step 2: The bottles are dried out and crushed up into tiny, chip-sized pieces.
Step 3: The pieces of PET are heated up and pushed through a spinneret to form long strands of yarn.
Step 4: The PET yarn is wound onto spools and sent through a crimping machine. The crimping step is what gives the yarn a fluffy texture.
Step 5: The PET yarn can then be baled, dyed to the desired color, and knitted into fabric.
Another way that recycled polyester is different from the real deal is in its sustainability, from the manufacturing process to the end product. Recycling PET bottles into polyester consumes far less energy and water than synthesizing PET. In fact, the process of manufacturing rPET is 33% to 53% less than manufacturing virgin polyester.
In addition, rPET can be recycled over and over into new items. This means that we wouldn’t have to actually produce any more virgin polyester. We can just continue recycling the same recycled polyester once it’s no longer being used, like an old bag or piece of clothing that you don’t want anymore.
The biggest obstacle standing in the way of this reality is the logistics of collecting, distributing and paying for rPET. It’s a massive undertaking that will require fashion & product companies to rethink and retool their infrastructure from the ground up.
At the end of the day, while rPET does leave a carbon footprint behind, it is significantly smaller than the impact that virgin polyester has on the environment. And it has the potential to be even more sustainable if companies are ever able to start implementing the technology to keep recycling rPET.