Is recycled apparel sustainable?


Apparel made from recycled materials is a more eco-friendly option in today’s market. Simply because recycled clothing is using existing resources means that the energy required to make new materials is canceled out. For all types of fabric – from wool and cashmere to cotton and linen – recycled fibers are a great option for consumers’ sustainable wardrobe.

Figure: Despite the rising popularity of recycled fashion, currently less than one percent of the materials used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing.

For synthetic fiber, studies show that the manufacturing process of recycled polyester generates 79% fewer carbon emissions than virgin polyester. However, it is vital not only to consider fiber quality and energy efficiency but also the difference between post-consumer waste and post-industrial waste.

though only a little proportion of clothing gets turned into clothing again, so most recycled garments are made with feedstock from other industries, for example, PET plastic bottles. These bottles tend to be mechanically rather than chemically recycled (a more expensive option), which after processing more than once, the quality is massively reduced due to progressively shorter and weaker fibers, therefore recycled polyester is not a closed-loop solution. Using bottles also means that the bottling industry cannot operate a closed-loop system, because its resources are transferred to the fashion sector instead.

Also, there is the issue of microplastics. Even when a synthetic garment is made from recycled fibers, with each washing machine cycle it still sheds around 700,000 microfibers into the water system, threatening both marine and human life just like with virgin polyester.