Are Clothes Made of Recycled Plastic Eco-Friendly?

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Imagine this conversation:

– I LOVE your leggings!

–Thanks, they used to be water bottles!

Let me fill you in. I haven’t lost my mind.

I’m sure you’ve seen brands promoting clothes made of recycled plastics on your timeline.

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”.

responsible fashion brands everlane recycled plastic clothes

We all know that most of our clothes – up to 60% of our closets – are made out of synthetic fabrics. But as weird as it sounds, not everyone realizes synthetic fabrics are made out of plastic. And seven those who do don’t always make the connection between that and environmental damage.

At the end of the day we’re talking about clothes. How bad can they be?

As I was doing research for this post, I found someone asking on a forum the most metaphysical question I´ve ever encountered: “is there fabric in our clothes?”

And wow. This guy is asking the right questions. Apparently synthetic clothes have been the “new normal” for a very long time.

Look, sustainable fashion comes in many different forms and shapes. And of course, these companies making clothes out of recycled plastic are great for thinking about the planet and not only caring about profit. But read this 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 or download your Free Sustainable Fashion Beginner’s Guide here.

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.

plastic for recycled pet clothes

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 or leggings.

It sounds like the ecologist-fashionista dream: we divert plastic from the landfill and get new clothes in exchange.

via GIPHY

But, life isn’t simple and neither is this topic. So let’s break it down.

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 into our water streams – if you want to learn more about this topic, read this post about ocean plastic pollution.

Good news is you can actually do something to wash your clothes without all these unwanted little bastards – you can start by using laundry bags like these ones from Guppyfriend.

Plastic is only recyclable a limited number of times with the traditional recycling methods

So some things you should ask yourself about before buying rPET clothes are:

  • will I be able to use them for a long time?
  • is there a sustainable way to dispose of them when they’re unusable?

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

Everlane, for example, spends 10 to 15 % more than they would on virgin plastics. This extra expense may be keeping other companies from plunging into this business.

More good news: the more people spend that extra $$ in sustainable clothing now and the more demand is generated, the cheaper it’ll be for companies to produce them – and the cheaper they’ll become eventually.

Pros of clothes made of recycled plastic

They divert plastic from the landfills

Instead of letting a plastic bottle rot 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 that also 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, just as any other business, they need a market where they can sell their products.

Then, if more clothing brands start introducing rPET on their catalogues, it will be more profitable for recycling facilities to produce it, and the production of rPET will get cheaper and cheaper over time.

These companies are more conscious of environmental and social issues

The fact that they try to find a way to divert plastic pollution already means that they have the planet’s best interest in mind.

Many of these brands go the extra mile to ensure that they’re causing the less environmental impact possible (using renewable resources, offsetting their emissions, using efficient machinery) and giving their workers the great conditions they deserve.

Tala is a great example of a socially responsible and environmentally friendly brand that works with rPET.

Where can I find clothes made of recycled plastic?

There are hundreds of brands offering clothing and 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 price of its products, or the market space they cover, doing some good is possible for everyone.

Adidas

They’ve produced millions of shoes using recycled plastic, and they have also pledged to use ONLY recycled plastic by 2024. Their Parley shoes are made of plastic recovered from the oceansexactly 11 bottles are saved from the ocean with each pair.

In 2017, they sold a million pairs, in 2018, 5 million, and they have produced 11 million for 2019.

Well played, Adidas.

TALA

I have followed this girl called Grace on Instagram for AGES because of her awesome positive energy. And in 2019 started her own sportswear brand that uses exclusively recycled cotton and rPET. Even their labels and bags are 100% recycled and recyclable.

Ah, we love a sustainability queen.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Also: have you seen how crazy affordable their products are???

H&M

Ok. This is gonna be a controversial one. And if you have rolled your eyes reading H&M, I’m proud of you.

Because even if they use recycled plastic, they are still a fast fashion brand, and that still raises A LOT of red flags. It´s greenwashing at its finest, actually.

They’re 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 I think it’s great that they’re one of the first (if not the first) fast fashion brands to implement sustainable practices on a large scale. It’s a start.


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/research to find them?
  • 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´ll always prefer natural fabrics to synthetic ones. And 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 incentive if we know how to take advantage of it.

Until we find other technologies or fabrics that can completely substitute synthetic fabrics, we’ll keep using them for some of our clothes. So why not using its recycled version?

Hi, lovely! This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something using them, I’ll receive a commission – totally cost-free for you. Remember that I only recommend things that I love and I know you’ll love too! 

What do you think?

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