The fast fashion industry is one of the main contributors to climate change and ecological damage in our society today. It is estimated that clothing production is responsible for 10% of carbon emissions worldwide. The amount of waste produced by the industry is also a significant factor in environmental pollution as around 85% of textiles go unused every year and end up in landfills and oceans.
As people become more aware of the detrimental effects that fast fashion has on our planet, there is a growing interest in environmentally friendly clothing. Plastic waste such as water bottles can be repurposed to make the sustainable fabric RPET. The Eco Blend collection from Robert August features polo shirts, and T-shirts made with RPET from recycled plastic bottles.
Robert August proudly makes their clothes in the USA, ensuring ethical manufacturing and added sustainability. USA-made clothing also reduces carbon emissions from fuel that would be needed to ship items overseas in the production process.
What is PET?
PET (polyethylene terephthalate), or polyester, is the most common type of plastic resin. It can be used to make many items such as storage containers, water bottles, soda bottles, cleaning product containers, and food packaging. It can also be broken down into polyester fabric to make clothing, shoes, blankets, sleeping bags, carpets, and more.
What is RPET?
RPET, which stands for recycled PET, is a sustainable form of plastic. PET is a highly recyclable material as it can be washed and remelted to produce new, sustainable items. It is also the most recycled plastic worldwide. According to the PET Resin Association (PETRA), the United States recovers over 1.5 billion pounds of used PET products every year for recycling.
How Is RPET Collected, Sorted, and Processed?
After consumers use and discard PET, it gets sorted and cleaned in a recycling facility. RPET is made from used plastic water bottles which are broken down into tiny flakes or pellets and then crushed, melted, and spun into yarn. This yarn is woven into the recycled polyester fabric for clothes. The process takes used plastic, which would ordinarily be dumped in a landfill or end up in the ocean, and instead repurposes it to make sustainable fabric. As a result, PET and RPET can be repeatedly recycled. Although the recycling process degrades its quality over time, manufacturers can resolve this issue by using additives to repair the plastic’s broken polymer chains and restore them to their original strength.
How Does PET Production Harm the Environment?
Making virgin PET is highly disruptive to the environment. The process involves extracting petroleum, crude oil, and natural gas from the Earth and then forming these materials into molten liquid. This technique depletes natural resources, including energy and water, and releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. In addition, the process of petroleum extraction devastates the ecosystem and contributes to the endangerment of wildlife. The petroleum industry is responsible for much of the world’s deforestation and oil spills, such as the BP oil spill in 2010, which killed tens of thousands of marine animals and birds.
Not only that, but plastics continue to cause environmental harm after they are consumed and discarded because they are not biodegradable. Plastic waste ends up in landfills and the ocean and takes thousands of years to decompose. As it disintegrates, plastic releases toxic chemicals that pollute the Earth and ocean. These chemicals enter the groundwater and potentially harm both humans and animals from landfills. By using RPET instead of new PET, there is less need to produce new items that would harm the environment.
The Benefits of RPET
Recyclable plastics are a potential solution to the environmental problem created by the plastic industry. RPET reduces the amount of plastic in oceans and landfills, lowers the clothing industry’s carbon footprint, and conserves natural resources. RPET production requires 85% less energy and emits 65% fewer greenhouse gasses compared to virgin polyester. It also reduces water use by about 90%. EarthHero states that “one year’s worth of recycling common plastics can create the equivalent energy savings of taking 360,000 cars off the road in the US.” These resources and emissions can be preserved by opting for recycled plastics over virgin PET.
There is a huge demand for polyester in the clothing industry, with more than 60% of virgin PET production being used to make polyester fabrics. RPET can give these plastics a second life and redirect the market towards environmentally friendly clothing.
Recycled plastics are a vastly underutilized resource. It is estimated that only around 7-9% of recycled plastics get repurposed, which leaves the rest of the PET to go to waste in landfills or the ocean. The most effective way to deal with this extra waste is to reuse it and create new, energy-efficient items.
What can you do to help?
As you read all of these statistics about plastic waste, you may be wondering what you, as a consumer, can do to protect the environment. Here are some steps you can take to support the sustainability movement.
Properly recycle all plastics – You can tell that a plastic container is made with PET plastic by looking for the “#1” recycling label on the bottom. There is always a need for more high-quality plastics in the RPET industry, so everything counts.
Reduce waste – Choose reusable items and items that have compostable packaging or are packaging-free whenever you can. Some things you can do are take a reusable shopping bag to the grocery store, drink from a reusable water bottle instead of plastic water bottles, and start a garden at home.
Opt for RPET products when you can – RPET products create a market for these recycled plastics. Purchasing RPET increases its demand, which helps the sustainable fabric industry grow and reduces the need for new polyester. An example of such products is the Eco Blend collection from Robert August, which features shirts made from a blend of recycled water bottles and organic cotton.
Advocate for RPET use and facilities – Let the RPET production facilities know that their work is valued. For them to continue operating, they need support from people everywhere. You can start by researching your local recycling facilities to see if they are involved in RPET production.