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Our Ultimate Guide To Recycled Polyester (Pros, Cons & More)

As many around the globe begin to adopt a more sustainable way of living, there is no way better to show that you care about the environment than opting for ethical clothing. The fashion industry has been taken in recent years by innovations to promote sustainability, with recycled polyester being one of the most popular material choices to enable sustainable fashion. With the sustainable fashion market predicted to grow 5.6X quicker than its non-sustainable counterparts over the coming years, it is important to be aware of recycled polyester and its uses in the clothing you choose to wear.

Today, we will draw on our experience to give you industry insight into recycled polyester, while also covering some of the key advantages and few potential disadvantages this material offers.

What Is Recycled Polyester?

In short, recycled polyester is a fabric made from recycled plastic materials. Commonly referred to as rPET, the primary source of this material is usually plastic bottles but it can also come from other sources such as industrial plastic waste and old polyester garments. In terms of what this material consists of, recycled polyester is nearly identical to polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – the same polymer that is used to produce conventional polyester for clothing, packaging, furniture and much more. Aside from the use of rPET in clothing, many more major retailers are adopting this wonderful material to make environmentally friendly bedding products.

The Process Of Making rPET

The process of making recycled polyester is quite complex, although it has become more accessible over recent years as technology has advanced, with production costs reducing as a result. We have observed this change across our clothing lines, with the AWDis Recycled Cool T now being one of our most competitively priced garments across our printed t-shirt range. Made from 100% recycled polyester, each t-shirt is made out of nine 550ml plastic bottles and is just one example of how reduced production costs are enabling more accessible sustainable clothing for everybody.

Recycled polyester can be dyed in many different colours, including the variants highlighted below:

Yellow Recycled Polyester Sports T-Shirt
Red Recycled Polyester Sports T-Shirt
Purple Recycled Polyester Sports T-Shirt

Creating recycled polyester involves a series of steps that transform plastic waste into usable material for clothing or textiles. Although it may slightly vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, here’s an overview of the process:

  1. Collection & sorting: The process begins with collecting plastic waste, primarily from used plastic bottles. These collected items are sorted to remove any unwanted materials that can’t be used for the production of rPET.
  2. Cleaning: The sorted plastic is then thoroughly cleaned to remove labels, glue, dirt, and any residual contents. Unfortunately, this process can result in the production of microplastic but more on that later. Cleaning ensures that the plastics are free of impurities that could affect the quality of the recycled polyester.
  3. Shredding & flaking: Once cleaned, the plastic is shredded or crushed into small flakes. This is a critical step that ensures the waste plastic can be manipulated and transformed into rPET.
  4. Melting: The flakes are then melted down into a liquid state. This stage has to be very carefully managed, using precise temperatures to ensure the correct formation of the polymer chains.
  5. Forming & extrusion: This substance is extruded through spinnerets to form fibres. A spinneret is a device used to extrude a polymer solution, enabling the creation of fibres.
  6. Yarn & production: These fibres are then cooled and solidified into long, continuous strands, which are then spun into yarn. This yarn can be dyed, woven or knitted into a new fabric, eventually becoming a recycled polyester garment.
Cleaned plastic bottles which will be used to make recycled polyester.
Recycled polyester begins life as cleaned plastic bottles which may otherwise be heading for landfill…
Man running along a street in recycled polyester sportswear.
…. but results in highly durable sportswear which can be used for many years to come.

Why Choose Recycled Polyester

Now you understand more about what rPET is and the process in which it is made, we must now review some of the key advantages and potential disadvantages of opting for this material. Overall, the advantages of using this material in fashion far outweigh the negatives, but it is important to present both sides of the argument so you can make an informed decision when choosing what material is best for your workwear, sportswear, bedding or more.

Advantages of rPET

There are many significant advantages when it comes to choosing recycled polyester for your clothing. Here are a few of the main benefits you need to know about:

Requires less energy

This one should come as no surprise given some of the points we have covered so far, but rPET requires much less energy than the production of traditional polyester. rPET production requires 59% less energy and emits up to 32% less CO2 compared to virgin polyester, according to a report from the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Helps to reduce waste

Aside from the reduced energy and emissions produced, the other major benefit of rPET versus PET is that it reduces waste. Instead of plastic bottles and other waste products being sent to landfill, they can instead be used to create new items of clothing or furniture for others to enjoy for years to come. Less energy, less emissions, and less waste – it truly is one of the most sustainable materials for clothing.

Produces strong and durable clothing

Another major benefit of recycled polyester is the fact that the material is of high quality, meaning you won’t be able to tell the difference between a recycled polyester garment and a virgin polyester garment. The strength and durability of rPET ensure that clothing items made from this material will last long, maintaining their shape and resilience through multiple wears and washes.

Water pollution occurring due to plastic and other materials.
Choosing rPET clothing over virgin polyester yields several benefits, including the reduction of plastic waste that can otherwise end up in oceans or rivers.

Potential disadvantages of rPET

While there are many wonderful upsides to using recycled polyester, a few drawbacks can be argued. We believe that the pros far outweigh the cons, but we wanted to share a couple of these with you below:

  • Less eco-friendly compared to other materials
    • It is indisputable that rPET is much more eco-friendly compared to virgin polyester. However, the report from the Stockholm Environment Institute in 2010 indicated that it is still not as sustainable compared to other materials, requiring more energy for production than wool, cotton and hemp. We accept that this may be true, but for sportswear and other garments, you need the breathable properties that polyester provides, and rPET is a great way to facilitate this whilst still being eco-conscious.
  • Microplastic production
    • Very topical at the moment but as is the case for many synthetic fibres, recycled polyester can shed microplastics during the washing process, which can end up in waterways and pose environmental risks. As this process is largely unavoidable and also occurs with virgin polyester production, it is safe to say that benefits still make rPET a great choice for sustainable clothing.
Microplastics on a sandy beach due to rPET production.
Microplastic production is one negative of rPET production.


Throughout this guide, we explored all key elements related to recycled polyester, learning why it has such an important role in the world of sustainable fashion, ethical sportswear and more. Not only this, but we also uncovered the science behind the production process whilst learning the key benefits and possible drawbacks of choosing this wonderful material.

If you would like to design your own sustainable polo shirt, ethical hoodie, or use our eco-friendly t-shirt printing service, please contact our expert team. We know exactly the best methods to use when it comes to printing on recycled polyester, ensuring you end up with a garment you love.

Small patch of soil and a green shrub being cupped in two hands to represent sustainability.
If you are environmentally conscious, you should choose recycled polyester for your sportswear and clothing!

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