What are Polyester Fabrics?

The widespread use of polyester, a synthetic polymer derived from petroleum, has long been criticized for its detrimental environmental impacts. To combat this, many brands and retailers have turned to recycled polyester as a seemingly greener alternative.

Major players like American Eagle, Marine Layer, and Inditex (the parent company of Zara) tout their use of recycled polyester as part of their sustainability efforts. Even renowned eco-conscious brands like Patagonia and Outdoor Voices have incorporated it into their collections.

But how eco-friendly is recycled polyester, really?

Let's start with the basics: What exactly is recycled polyester?

Recycled polyester, also known as rPET, is essentially the same synthetic fiber as traditional polyester, but it's made from recycled materials instead of virgin petroleum. This process is made possible by the thermoplastic nature of polyester, allowing it to be melted down and reshaped without losing its strength or durability.

Retailers across the board, from Aerie to Zara, have eagerly embraced recycled polyester, with some like Inditex, Adidas, and Reebok pledging to phase out virgin polyester entirely by certain deadlines.

However, the story gets more complicated when we consider the entire life cycle of rPET-based clothing.

While some brands proudly state that their recycled polyester comes from post-consumer textile waste or plastic bottles, this commendable effort to divert plastic from landfills and oceans raises a crucial issue: once these garments reach the end of their life cycle, they often find themselves in the same fate as their virgin polyester counterparts—destined for landfill.

The Recycling Loop Disrupted

Unlike plastic bottles, which can be recycled into new bottles, textile-to-textile recycling remains a nascent technology. According to The Guardian, only 1% of all clothing is recycled in this manner. This means that recycled polyester garments are far less likely to undergo subsequent recyclings, effectively removing them from the recycling loop.

So, while the production of rPET may be more planet-friendly than traditional polyester, the lack of viable recycling options for textile-based rPET significantly diminishes its environmental benefits. As Francois Souchet of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation points out, "Bottles that have been turned into garments are no longer recyclable."

In essence, the positive impacts of recycled polyester are often overstated by corporations seeking to appeal to eco-conscious consumers. Without robust textile recycling infrastructure, rPET-based apparel remains a temporary solution to a much larger problem.

It's clear that the fashion industry must address these challenges head-on and invest in truly sustainable solutions that prioritize longevity, recyclability, and environmental stewardship.

The road to sustainability is paved with transparency, accountability, and a willingness to challenge the status quo. Let's demand better from the brands we support and work together to create a fashion industry that truly cares for both people and the planet.

Microplastics and why they matter...

Now, let's talk microplastics. Ever heard of them? These tiny plastic particles, often too small to be seen with the naked eye, are shed from synthetic fabrics like polyester every time we wash our clothes. They make their way into our waterways, polluting our oceans and threatening marine life. And guess what? They're also finding their way back to us through the food chain, posing potential risks to human health.


So, next time you're tempted by the allure of recycled polyester, think twice. Ask yourself if it's truly a sustainable choice or just another cog in the fast fashion machine. Let's demand transparency and accountability from the fashion industry, because real sustainability goes beyond flashy marketing campaigns.


It's time to debunk the myth of recycled polyester as a sustainable solution and push for genuine change in the way we produce and consume fashion.

Let's keep the conversation going.

Melanie Coultas


Excellent write up, Mel! You raise so many good points. Natural fibres really are the only eco-friendly options; and then the dying process raises other environmental issues. Your print to order business model is trailblazing!

— Zoe de

Thank you Mel. I have always used cotton, linen, wool and other natural yarns, because I found my body couldn’t breathe when wrapped in plastic. Maybe Greenpeace could help us in getting this atrocity made blatantly public for all to consider.

— Lucienne Coverdale