Previously on The Running Republic blog, we shared why we decided to use recycled polyester and recycled polyamide as the main materials for building the best brand of sustainable sports apparel.
The technical attributes and environmental benefits of recycled polyester and recycled polyamide are the main reasons why we chose to base our products on these fibers as opposed to their virgin counterparts.
But is all recycled polyester created equal? Let’s take a look at the difference between the two main types of recycled polyester: pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled polyester, explaining what is Greenwashing and what is, in our opinion, real sustainability.
What’s the difference between pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled polyester?
When we talk about recycled polyester, it’s important to make a distinction between pre-consumer recycled polyester and post-consumer recycled polyester.
Pre-consumer recycled polyester comes from polyester production discards and PET plastic bottles that, due to production failures, cannot be used in the food industry and are recycled to produce recycled fibres for the textile industry (among other uses).
Post-consumer recycled polyester comes from plastic waste collected in the environment, mainly in seas and landfills. We are talking about the tons of plastic waste found in the oceans, including bottles and fishing nets, as well as waste found in landfills and in the environment.
Both processes constitute collecting plastic waste, crushing it into fine flakes, purifying and re-polymerizing it, and creating the polyester chips that, at this point of the process, are treated in the same way as virgin polyester. They are spun into fibres and then woven or knit into fabrics.
Pre-consumer or post-consumer recycled polyester: which is more sustainable?
As we showed in our previous blog post, there is no difference between virgin polyester and recycled polyester in terms of performance. Pre-consumer and post-consumer polyester also perform exactly the same. But while both materials are better for the environment than virgin polyester, only one of them means collecting waste from the environment and recovering it by giving new life to something that is currently polluting.
The chances of post-consumer plastic waste ending up in oceans or landfills and polluting our planet are much greater than those of pre-consumer plastic waste. Industrial waste is likely to be recycled by manufacturers themselves in order to cut costs. If you look at it this way, you could even say that pre-consumer plastic waste isn’t actually waste at all - it’s just scraps that get tossed right back into the manufacturing process. What’s more, pre-consumer plastic waste is a byproduct of a process that relies on virgin material - so it can hardly be called sustainable.
On the other hand, post-consumer plastic waste can have a detrimental impact on the environment. It can take hundreds or even thousands of years for plastic to decompose. Pieces of plastic waste that end up in the ocean poison small organisms like plankton, and the fish that eat them end up ingesting the toxins, too. Sea animals become entangled in pieces of plastic, and their stomachs get clogged by small pieces of plastic that they swallow. The danger is not just to marine life: humans are at risk, too. Through the microplastics in the fish that we eat, pollution works its way up the food chain and gets into our systems.
See why it’s so important to make sure we’re removing pollutants from the environment? Recycling post-consumer plastic waste should be the number one priority for many industries around the world.
To answer our original question, whether pre-consumer or post-consumer recycled polyester is more sustainable: post-consumer recycled polyester has a much higher environmental value. This is why we have chosen it as the primary material of our running clothes.
The real goal of sustainability: reversing pollution
Many fast fashion companies and sports brands use pre-consumer recycled polyester as a way of greenwashing their image. Pre-consumer recycled polyester is infinitely cheaper than post-consumer recycled polyester, which is why most of the big brands are opting for it.
We are not pointing to any brand in particular, but as a real sustainable brand, what we always suggest to do is to read very carefully the label of the garments that you are about to buy. If you read “recycled polyester” in the label, is normally (commonly) Pre-Consumer because the brands like The Running Republic that use Post-Consumer are obviously proud to state that they are using Post-Consumer Recycled Polyester and normally they do it.
While these companies are taking the first steps towards more sustainable practices, they are also making it seem as though the impact of their efforts were much bigger than it actually is. Buying up excess materials directly from manufacturers has a much less significant impact on the environment than recycling waste which has been discarded by the consumer and discouraging the manufacturing of products from virgin materials.
Plus, real sustainability in fashion (or sports) is not only using recycled materials: real sustainability is building a sustainable business model based on protecting the environment, the people involved in the production processes and of course maintaining the economic sustainability of the business without over-exploiting resources and without over producing unnecessary products that will end in the landfill, as most of the fast fashion brands do.
Considering that every year, 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the oceans, we believe that we can have a much bigger impact by choosing to use post-consumer recycled polyester - despite the higher cost.
100% of our products are made with post-consumer recycled materials.
We don’t only produce a little capsule of product made of recycled polyester in a range of thousands of garments and in our online store, you’ll find the best truly sustainable sportswear ethically made with post-consumer recycled polyester and post-consumer recycled polyamides.
We only have one planet, and we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect it. Let’s remove the plastic from our oceans and turn it into beautiful and functional sports clothing that we can use for a long time!