Polyester is one of the most commonly used materials in the textile industry. Every year, more than 22.67 billion tonnes of polyester clothing is produced worldwide. It’s especially popular in sportswear, due to its exceptional elasticity and “sweat-proofness”. However, polyester is also one of the most unsustainable and contaminating materials on the planet.
In this blog post, we explore how recycled polyester compares to virgin polyester in terms of technical quality and sustainability. We also look at why it’s our number one choice for manufacturing our running clothes and how it can help us create a positive impact.
What is polyester?
Polyester - the most common form of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) - is a man-made, synthetic fibre derived from a chemical reaction between petroleum, air and water. It was patented in the 1940s. Since then, the use of polyester in the production of products such as industrial fabrics, furnishing and clothing has increased exponentially.
The sports textile industry, for example, relies heavily on the use of polyester due to its advantageous qualities. Polyester fabrics are an athlete’s best ally because they are highly elastic, abrasion-resistant, easy to care for, and, above all, absorb less moisture and expel sweat more easily than other types of fabrics.
However, no matter how well-suited polyester may be to activewear, it’s a synthetic fibre that comes from a non-renewable source (petroleum). When you consider that the oil industry is on of the world’s biggest polluters and contributors to climate change, it starts to look bad. What’s more, polyester is not biodegradable: it could take up to 200 years for it to fully decompose, polluting the planet and its life-giving oceans.
Considering all these factors, it’s easy to see that the production of virgin polyester is extremely unsustainable. So what’s the next best thing for athletes who need high-performance sportswear?
What’s the best alternative to virgin polyester?
When we started to conceive The Running Republic, it was clear that although polyester and polyamide are the best fibres in sports apparel, we would not be using them in their virgin state. We are acutely aware of the current global emergency regarding plastic pollution, and we did not want to introduce new contaminating materials into the environment.
After months of investigation and dozens of meetings with fabric suppliers, we came to the conclusion that the best alternative to virgin polyester currently available on the market is recycled polyester (also called rPET).
Our research showed that recycled polyester has many benefits both in terms of technical attributes and sustainability.
To understand these benefits, let us explain what recycled polyester is and how it’s produced.
How is recycled polyester made?
Recycled plastic is made by collecting plastic waste such as plastic bottles or fishnets, shipping it to processing facilities, melting it down into pellets and then spinning those pellets into new polyester fibre.
Recycled polyester has the same consistency, elasticity, resistance to abrasion, moisture-wicking and colour fastness as virgin polyester. However, due to its production process, it’s a much more sustainable and environmentally friendly than virgin polyester - which is why we chose to use it in the making of our sports clothing (along with recycled polyamide).
By using recycled polyester, we’re saving natural resources. Instead of introducing new oil into the environment, we’re able to save just over one litre of oil per kilo of recycled material.
Using post-consumer recycled polyester also allows us to decrease the amount of plastic waste in the environment. We can turn one kilo of collected waste - ocean plastic - into one kilo of recycled material.
Last but not least, using recycled polyester saves energy throughout all the production processes by 50% compared to virgin polyester, and generates 70% less CO2 emissions. With CO2 being one of the biggest contributors to the greenhouse effect and climate change, we think it’s fundamentally important to reduce emissions as much as we can.
The impact of using recycled polyester
So let’s look at the bigger picture. How can the practice of using recycled polyester instead of virgin polyester make the world a better place?
The production process of recycled polyester does not rely on oil as a raw material. If the practice of recycling polyester was widely adopted, we would be able to ultimately decrease our reliance on petroleum and thus discourage its extraction from the Earth.
Using recycled polyester can also contribute to reducing ocean plastic and preventing plastic from ending up in landfills. What’s more, it can decrease the amount of plastic that’s being incinerated and releasing toxic gases into the air.
Is recycled polyester healthy?
When it comes to clothing - products that touch our skin, our biggest organ - it’s inevitable to talk about the impact of the materials used in the making of garments on our health. Is recycled polyester safe, or is it toxic?
According to the latest research, there is no evidence to suggest that clothing made from recycled polyester negatively impacts our health.
Extensive research has been done to find out whether we need to worry about toxic chemicals leaching into our skin from materials made from recycled PET bottles. Scientists came to the conclusion that these recycled materials pose no health concern for humans whatsoever.
You can rest assured, wearing recycled polyester will not adversely affect your health - but it will positively impact the health of our planet.
Sustainability serving performance
As you were reading this post, you may have wondered: is recycled polyester the only option when developing sustainable sportswear? What about natural fibres?
Of the materials currently available on the market, natural fibres such as Merino wool or Tencel have similar properties to those of polyester. However, as of today, there is no natural fibre or treated natural fibre that has the moisture control of polyester (or polyamide) and can, therefore, be applied to high-performance sports textile.
At the Running Republic, we are starting to develop products with natural fibres, especially to be able to solve the issue of microplastics, which is still a concern when using recycled polyester.
But because we believe above all in quality and functionality, and we want to deliver the best products to the runners who trust us, we will continue testing until we have found the material whose sports performance meets our high standards.
At the Running Republic, we believe in sustainability serving performance, and we will not compromise on either.
If you’d like to start making more conscious choices when shopping for sportswear, browse our selection of sustainable running clothes for women and for men.
While you’re there, check out our Tech Hoodie, an extremely technical second layer for sports in medium and low temperatures, perfect for warming up or going to the gym! You can read a review of this garment made by Foroatletismo here.
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