rPET – Your new recycled alternative?

rPET recyclable cups

We’ve all seen the images of plastic waste and endless bottle mountains floating in our seas and oceans. Most of these abandoned soft drink bottles and detached plastic waste parts are made of PET (Polyethylene terephthalate). 

Like you must already know, PET as a material is non-biodegradable. Similarly to domestic pets, it can create harm to wildlife if allowed to spread uncontrollably. 

Over the past decades, many engineers, designers and environmentalists have been inventing and developing ways of controlling PET and turning these plastic trash piles into something useful, something meaningful. One of the most common outcomes focuses on recycling these plastics into a new recycled polyester material also known as rPET.

Until the rPET has only been used by organisations such as Patagonia and more recently Nike and Adidas in their products and garments. Nowadays, however, it has become a great alternative for smaller businesses too. 

Since polyester is a common fabric in many of the products and solutions we offer at Framme, I wanted to dive a little deeper into these seas of sustainability. The purpose of rPET is clear; less energy is required to create a new product whilst utilising existing items rather than exploiting new raw materials. Waste piles are turned into something useful. Sounds like a win-win? Yes and no. As with most things today, it’s a bit more complicated than a straight answer.

Is rPET a sustainable material? As with most things today, it’s a bit complicated than a typical yes or no answer.

Clear benefits

Non-recycled, virgin polyester is derived from petroleum-based ingredients and accounts for more than 60% of fibres used in the textile and apparel industry. Switching to rPET immediately takes a huge load off un-renewable fossil resources like oil.

Studies show that recycled polyester fibre production also requires significantly less energy to produce; 79% fewer carbon emissions to manufacture rPET compared to virgin polyester (PET among others).  

The most compelling argument perhaps, when making the case for rPET, is turning wastepiles, floating bottle barriers, plastic waste into new products. Even more so when considering the positive societal impact recycling projects cause in generating jobs in under-developed countries. 

The unclear cons

Like many other materials, rPET doesn’t come without its drawbacks. An rPET product’s way of becoming a textile piece generally requires cotton or another material to support it. Combining materials in such a way makes the new rPET textile product unrecyclable. Although rPET alone is not to blame for this, it is important to realise. Despite recycled plastic bottles being turned into new garments, these garments, in turn, can rarely be recycled and made into new garments again. The recycling loop ends there. 

Microplastics within materials like polyester are also a burning topic from many perspectives. Microplastics are small plastic fragments (< 5mm) that are virtually impossible to detect in sewage-plant filters. As a result, they end up in our waterways – and never degrade. Like virgin polyester PET, its recycled cousin rPET fabrics are known to release microplastics into the environment when washed.

Weighing the arguments, if you want to minimise the impact on the environment my recommendation is to choose recycled polyester over virgin polyester. And choose quality over quantity. 

Here are some of our suggested branded rPET alternatives you can immediately choose. The stuff we can hjälp you make: 

  • Lanyard (fabric 100% rPET) 
  • Running shirt (100% rPET)
  • Windbreakers (100% rPET)
  • Fleece blankets for those cold nights (100% rPET)
  • Bandanas (100% rPET)
  • Socks (100% rPET)
  • Saddle covers for your biking fans (100% rPET)

If you are looking for something else – please don’t hesitate to contact us. Our team is happy to assist you!

Rambled by

Pauli Kuusijärvi – Framme

Pauli Kuusijärvi
Head of Production and Partner at Framme

Cover photo: Globelet Pictures // Unsplash