FASHION UNZIPPED SERIES
Turning Plastic into Fashion.
Have you ever wondered where your plastic bottles go once you discard them into the recycling bin?
URBAG follows the journey of National Geographic's reporters to uncover the inside story of the recycling industry and how they transform plastic bottles into recycled polyester.
What type of plastic is used to create recycled polyester?
The recycled polyester used for textiles is most commonly from PET bottles, namely all hard plastic bottles such as water, juice or milk bottles. However, other post-consumer plastic waste such as discarded polyester textiles or ocean waste can be used.
The process: turning plastic waste into fashion
Fashion, especially fast fashion, has become highly reliant on virgin plastics to manufacture textile, and plastic-derived additives, such as antioxidants, dyes and fire retardants.
To lessen the environmental impact of all of this plastic, fashion companies have begun to eliminate or reduce their use of virgin plastics. One of the ways they are doing this is through the use of recycled and waste plastics.
In 2008, around eight percent of polyester fibers produced worldwide came from recycled materials. By 2021, this figure had increased to 15 percent.
To better understand this new trend and its implications, National Geographic went behind the scenes and followed the journey of plastic bottles, which took them all the way to China. They condensed their story into a 5 minute video, filming each part of the process from collection to finished garment.
Watch the video here
What labels and certificates should the consumer look for?
The Recycled Claim Standard and The Global Recycled Standard both verify the recycled input material, and track it all the way to the final product. The latter also ensures responsible social, environmental practices and chemical use through production.
The Environmental impacts of recycled polyester
Textiles manufactured from recycled plastic, such as recycled polyester, are no better from a microplastics perspective. In fact, recycled polyester has been shown to emit more microplastics than new polyester. One recent study found that a 6kg wash releases on average up to half a million microfibres*
While we wait for the UK to impose stricter regulations and legislation, and ask manufacturers to integrate microfibers filters in every washing machine, like they did in France**, we have two cost effective options to capture microplastic from the shredding of your clothes during the wash. The Guppyfriend washbag and the Planetcare filter. The latter has an interesting closed-loop solution, planning to create insulation mats with the captured fibers.
On a more general note, using recycled plastic does not address some of the biggest issues of waste in fast fashion. The only permanent solution to this is to eliminate the use of plastics in fashion altogether. When choosing your next tee-shirt or trousers, choose natural fibers that do not require the use of chemical to transform into yarn, such as cotton, linen or hemp.
Read more of this topic
* The research, published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, was led by PhD student Imogen Napper in conjunction with Professor Richard Thompson, who is a leading international expert on microplastics and marine debris having worked in the field for more than 20 years.
** France has adopted a law to curb this pollution, proposing that by 2025 every new washing machine must have a filter to catch plastic microfibres that come away from clothing during washing. Read more here