Synthetic fibers are the most popular fibers in the world – it’s estimated that synthetics account for about 65% of world production versus 35% for natural fibers. Most synthetic fibers (approximately 70%) are made from polyester, and the polyester most often used in textiles is polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Used in a fabric, it’s most often referred to as “polyester” or “poly”. The majority of the world’s PET production – about 60% – is used to make fibers for textiles; about 30% is used to make bottles. It’s estimated that it takes about 104 million barrels of oil
for PET production each year – that’s 70 million barrels just to produce the virgin polyester used in fabrics. That means most polyester – 70 million barrels worth – is manufactured specifically to be made into fibers, NOT bottles, as many people think.
Of the 30% of PET which is used to make bottles, only a tiny fraction is recycled into fibers. But the idea of using recycled bottles – “diverting waste from landfills” – and turning it into fibers has caught the public’s imagination.
The reason recycled polyester (often written rPET) is considered a green option in textiles today is twofold, and the argument goes like this:
1 - energy needed to make the rPET is less than what was needed to make the virgin polyester in the first place, so we save energy.
2 - And we’re keeping bottles and other plastics out of the landfills.Let’s look at these arguments.