Imagine this conversation:
– I LOVE your leggings!
–Thanks, they used to be water bottles!
No, I haven’t lost my mind. Let me fill you in.
I’m sure you have already seen brands promoting clothes made of recycled plastics on your timeline.
I’ve been seeing these ads go around for close to a year now, and every time I see more and more.
In the beginning, I was happy to see fashion brands taking a stand against plastic. But then I started asking myself: are they really the final solution against plastic pollution?
Ah. I wish the answer was as simple as a “damn right”.
We all know that most of our clothes – up to 60% of our closets – are made out of synthetic fabrics, but not everyone realizes synthetic fabrics are made out of plastic.
I guess there’s a bit of misinformation around this topic.
As I was researching for this post, I found someone asking the question in an internet forum: “is there fabric in our clothes?”
And wow. This guy is asking the right questions.
Anyway, I digress.
Of course, these companies are amazing for thinking about the planet and not only caring about profit. But read this full post before you go and stock your closet with recycled plastic clothes.
Want to read more about sustainable fashion? Check all the basics on my series Sustainable Fashion 101
How do they make clothes out of plastic bottles?
Recycled PET plastic (from now on, rPET) is the plastic they use to make these clothes. In everyday words, it’s the plastic used to make plastic bottles, and the one that has the number 1 inside the little triangle thingy.
The process to turn bottles into fabric seems pretty simple:
- Collecting water bottles
- Cleaning them
- Grinding them into little chips
- Melting the chips
- Spinning them into a fine yarn – usually polyester
And then we give them a second life sewing them into your new sneakers.
Put like this it seems pretty dreamy: we divert plastic from the landfill and get new clothes in exchange.
But, like everything else in life, this has its issues.
Cons of clothes made of recycled plastic
They’re still made of plastic – even if it’s recycled
Which means that the side effects of its use will are still there.
Like the fact that when they are washed they shed microplastics that end up in the oceans.
Good news is you can actually do something to wash your clothes without all the collateral microplastics – like using laundry bags or installing a washing machine filter.
Plastics are only recyclable a limited amount of times with the traditional recycling methods…
So something you should ask yourself about before buying rPET clothes is: how will I sustainably dispose of this?
Again, good news: a chemical plastic recycling method is becoming more and more popular. This could make plastics infinitely recyclable. YEY.
Using recycled plastic is more expensive than using virgin plastic
Guess what? More good news: the more people are willing to spend that extra in more sustainable clothing, the cheaper it’ll be for companies to produce them – and the cheaper they’ll eventually become.
Pros of clothes made of recycled plastic
They divert plastic from the landfills
Instead of letting a plastic bottle rot and crumble on a landfill, we’re turning it into something we need and are willing to use.
Looking for more ways to reduce your waste? Check this post on how to reduce your waste on a budget.
They save resources
Making virgin fabrics takes more energy than making recycled fabrics.
More than 60% of PET production is used to create synthetic textiles. If we use PET that already exists – discarded bottles – we are avoiding the CO2 emissions, and the energy and water use we would need to make PET from scratch.
Also, between 33% and 53% of the energy used to make virgin polyester is saved producing recycled polyester. And same goes for other natural fabrics that can be made from recycled materials, such as wool and cotton.
They act as an incentive for recycling facilities to be more productive and innovative
Recycling facilities are businesses, and, as any other business, they need a market where they can sell their products.
Then, if more clothing brands start introducing rPET on their catalogs, it will be more profitable for recycling facilities to produce it, and it will get cheaper and cheaper over time.
These companies are more conscious of environmental and social issues related to the fashion industry
So not only do they use recycled plastics, but they also go the extra mile. Their factories often use sustainable sources of energy, they are mindful of their waste, and their workers have the great working conditions they deserve.
Where can I find clothes made of recycled plastic?
There are hundreds of brands offering clothing or accessories made out of recycled PET , but I want to tell you about 3 very different brands that have implemented this: a very big company, a fairly new and modern brand, and a fast fashion corporation (SURPRISE!).
This shows that really no matter the size of a company, the prize of its products, or the market it specializes in, doing a bit of good is possible for everyone.
This sportswear giant has been producing millions of shoes with recycled plastic, and it has also pledged to use ONLY recycled plastic by 2024. Their Parley shoes are made of plastic recovered from the oceans – exactly 11 bottles are saved from the ocean for each pair.
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In 2017, they sold a million pairs, in 2018, 5 million, and they have produced 11 million for this year.
Well played, Adidas.
I have followed this girl called Grace on Instagram for AGES because of her awesome positive energy. And this year she has started her own sportswear brand that uses exclusively recycled cotton and recycled PET. Even their labels and bags are 100% recycled and recyclable.
Ah, we love a sustainability queen.
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I don’t know about you, but I cannot wait to get some of their bright leggings.
Also: have you seen how crazy affordable it is???
Ok. This can be a more controversial one. And if you have rolled your eyes reading H&M, I’m proud of you.
Because even if they use recycled plastics, they are still a fast fashion brand, and that raises A LOT of red flags still. They’re still not even close to being transparent, or having perfect ethics and sustainability standards – and only a small part of their collections is made of recycled plastics. But, hey, at least they are trying. Medal for the effort.
So I will leave the moral dilemma for you to solve.
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But they have done great being one of the first (if not the first) fast fashion brand to implement sustainable practices on a large scale.
So now that you know everything about this topic, it is up for you to decide:
- Do you consider clothes made of recycled plastic sustainable? Even considering the microplastic issue?
- Is it really worth it for companies to make these products, or should they invest in other sustainable products and materials?
- How much of this whole thing is marketing and how much is really eco-consciousness?
- What does the future of clothing look like if we keep going in this direction?
Personally, I really appreciate the efforts being made to reduce the trash in the world. And yes, we have to get better at recycling, and we need to find better technologies to make recycling more efficient.
I don’t think this is the one shift that will make the fashion industry sustainable once and for all. But I believe it’s a nice thing if we know how to take advantage of it.
Until other we find technologies or fabrics that can 100% substitute synthetic fabrics, we’ll still be using them for some of our clothes. So why not using its recycled version?
I think we’re going in the right direction.