The short answer:
Yes, recycled polyester is safe to wear. Provided the finished rPET garment was made with non-toxic dyes and chemicals.
Let’s take a deeper dive:
Polyester have had a lot of hate for a while now. I even called it to a meat pie. We know polyester clothing is bad for the environment and bad for us. Why then are so many so-called sustainable and eco-friendly brands embracing recycled polyester (rPET)?
The impact of rPET on the environment is a conversation for another day.
The bigger question on my mind today is:
Is recycled polyester toxic?
Let’s look at what we are dealing with here.
What is recycled polyester made from?
In a nutshell, recycled polyester is obtained by melting down existing plastics and re-spinning it into new polyester fiber. Traditionally rPET was made by recycling plastic soda and water bottles but technically, it can be made by melting any plastic including our old polyester clothes.
How is recycled polyester made?
There are 2 ways to recycle plastic – mechanically and chemically.
Mechanical recycling is the cheaper and cleaner of the two. You take a plastic bottle, wash it, shred it into plastic chips and melt it down to spin. Most rPET is obtained through this method.
Chemical recycling is when a plastic is broken down to its most basic form. It then goes through the normal polyester processing system to be made into polyester fabric again. It’s dirtier, more toxic and really makes you ask why bother in the first place?
Bisphenol A (BPA) concerns in plastics
The Harvard School of Public Health found an increase in urine BPA when participants in their study drank for a week from hard-plastic drinking bottles. Another study found that at higher temperatures (>70 °C), significantly more antimony and BPA leached out of plastic drinking water bottles.
What’s more worrying is that BPA and parabens with hormone-like activities was found to be present in 91% of socks for infants and young children.
So is recycled polyester safe to wear?
There are 2 schools of thought here. There are those who push for only using and wearing organic fabric (another discussion for another day). However, the general consensus is that there is no evidence the small amount of leached chemicals are dangerous to our health.
So yes, recycled polyester is generally safe to wear.
What’s more important is how the recycled polyester garment is made
You can eat as much organic fried chicken as you want and you’ll never ever be healthy. In fact quite the opposite.
It’s the same with recycled polyester (or any other fabric). The fabric itself can be non-toxic. But is the finished garment safe?
This depends on how it was made. What dyes were used? Were they toxic dyes? What other chemicals were added to enhance its features?
How do we know which recycled polyester clothing is safe?
- Don’t buy rPET clothes that have ‘added features’ like anti-odor, anti-wrinkle or anti-stain.
- Buy from established sustainable brands that use eco-friendly and low-toxic chemicals
- Look for OEKO-TEX and Blue-sign certifications
Sustainable clothing brands making recycled polyester clothes
If you’re a fan of sneakers, you would have heard of Veja. They make eco-friendly vegan sneakers that ‘last forever’.
In 2021, 17% of PrAna’s spring styles are made with responsible forest fibers, 57% of which are TENCEL® Lyocell and 43% of which are TENCEL® Modal. 53% of their 2021 spring styles also contain recycled materials; 28% of which are recycled nylon (ECONYL®) and 71% of which are recycled polyester (REPREVE®). 24% of their wool styles were made with recycled wool.
Read: Is prAna ethical?
Mara founded her brand in 2000. She focuses on sustainable materials and responsible practices while celebrating women. I love her style and color. But as with most other designer labels, it’s expensive.
To wrap up
Recycled polyester is no saint but it’s a bad guy who’s turned over a new leaf. In other words, it might not be the most eco-friendly fabric around but it’s safe enough to wear.
- Tencel™ lyocell vs polyester clothing: It’s like comparing apples and meat pie
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- Sustainable fashion: The simple guide to making the right choices
- Tencel lyocell clothing: The best eco-friendly fabric in 2021
- What is Tencel lyocell? - April 16, 2022
- Is yak wool itchy? - April 7, 2022
- What is Tencel lyocell made of? - March 30, 2022
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