Are Blended Fabrics and Recycled Polyester Truly Sustainable?
The fashion industry, especially fast fashion, is one of the most polluting industries, creating 10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Their entire business model is based on cheap, disposable clothing that acts like single-use plastic—you use it once or twice and throw it out.
The take-make-waste model that most fashion brands rely on is destroying our planet.
But as climate change worsens and awareness of these issues grows, sustainable products get more popular. In fact, 78% of people are more likely to buy a product if it’s labeled as sustainable.
In the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of growth in sustainable consumerism. But we’ve also seen an uptick in companies pretending to be sustainable when they aren’t. As conscious consumerism grows, new “sustainable” products are hitting the market.
The problem? These products aren’t really sustainable.
A trend we’ve seen in the fashion industry is the use of blended fabrics and recycled polyester as a sustainable option. Many businesses are marketing recycled polyester as “sustainable”.
But… is it?
In this blog, we’re doing a deep dive into recycled polyester, blended fibers, and eco-friendly fabrics. We’re digging deep into this new trend and answering the question… is recycled polyester sustainable?
What is Recycled Polyester?
Let’s start with the basics. Polyester is a man-made fabric created using petroleum-based ingredients. Polyester is plastic. And after you’re done with your polyester clothes, just like plastic, they’ll pollute the environment for years to come.
Because it’s highly durable and cheap, polyester is used in many different types of clothes and products. Your workout clothes are probably made at least partially from polyester. So are your bathing suits, windbreakers, and performance wear.
Recycled polyester is also a synthetic fiber but instead of using virgin plastic to create the fiber, it uses recycled plastic. Using recycled plastic is clearly better than using virgin plastic, but as it turns out.... that's the only benefit.
Where Does Recycled Polyester Come From?
Most recycled polyester is created by recycling clear-colored plastic bottles and turning them into polyester fabric. This is the most common way it’s produced, but other types of plastics are used too.
What’s the Problem with Recycled Polyester?
There are many disadvantages to using recycled polyester—especially when blended with natural fibers. Turning plastic bottles into clothing might seem like a solution to our plastic pollution problem. But the truth is… it isn’t. Wearing clothes made of plastic does more harm than good.
These are the main issues of fabric blends and recycled polyester:
They contaminate biodegradable, natural fibers with plastic.
With every wash, plastic fabrics shed millions of microplastics into the water.
A sustainable future means moving away from plastic… but if we’re using plastic to make clothes, we’re still creating a plastic dependency.
- Fabric made from polyester is not recyclable. Once it's made into clothing it will never be recycled again—meaning it’s destined for landfills.
- Less than 10% of all plastic is recycled.
Plastic recycling uses enormous amounts of resources.
- Recycled plastic ultimately ends up back in the environment.
What Are Blended Fabrics?
Blended fabrics are created by mixing two or more different types of fibers together. A single piece of clothing can use many types of fibers in it. There are many different fabric blends, but by far the most common blends are natural and plastic-based fibers—creating a synthetic blend.
The most common synthetic blend is recycled polyester and a natural fiber like organic cotton or merino wool.
Many brands are marketing these synthetic blended fabrics as a “solution”— claiming they’re the sustainable option. You might be thinking, well that’s great! We’re recycling plastic into new products and using natural fibers for clothing… but at the end of the day—plastic is plastic, and by reusing it in this way we're spreading plastic pollution indefinitely.
Taking a natural, sustainable fiber, such as merino wool, and contaminating it with recycled fibers, like polyester, is hardly a solution.
Many natural fibers are sustainable. Mixing a natural fiber with plastic turns what was potentially a sustainable product into, well, plastic.
Opting to recycle plastic instead of using virgin is better but it’s not a solution. We can’t continue to depend on plastic—especially for our clothing.
So… Are Fabric Blends and Recycled Polyester Eco-Friendly?
Ultimately, no. They aren’t.
Does it help reduce the amount of plastic polluting the environment? Sort of. It helps divert plastic bottles from our oceans and landfills, but this plastic doesn’t disappear. Instead, it spreads into our oceans, food sources, and soil.
By turning plastic into clothes, we’re creating a huge problem for the environment. Every single time you do laundry, an average of 9 million microfibers are released into the water. These tiny microfibers account for 35% of all microplastics polluting the Ocean.
Because these microplastics are so small, they sneak past most filters at water treatment plants. Eventually, they reach the ocean where all kinds of marine life end up eating them—causing even more harm.
Plus, a new study found that polyester also releases microplastics into the air simply by being worn.
If recycling plastic was a solution to tackle plastic pollution, we wouldn’t have a problem in the first place. We’ve been recycling plastic since it was first created, yet our oceans, rivers, and landfills are drowning in plastic pollution.
Because recycling is not a solution. It has never been. The plastic industry has pushed the idea of recycling as an effort to defer the responsibility for plastic pollution onto the consumer— and allow them to keep making more virgin plastic.
The only solution is to cut our dependence on plastic, shift towards renewable resources, rely on natural, biodegradable fibers and bio-based materials, and support a circular economy.
Plastic doesn’t fit in a sustainable future—even if it’s recycled or mixed with sustainable fabrics.
The Most Sustainable Fabrics
If you’re looking for truly sustainable fabrics that don’t use any plastic, don’t worry—you have options! These are the top eco-fabrics to look for:
Organic Cotton. Cotton is the most used fabric for clothing. It’s breathable and cooling and your closet is probably filled with cotton clothes—like jeans. Cotton comes from a plant, and if it’s organic, it’s a great vegan option for clothing. The downside to conventional cotton is the extremely high amounts of water and pesticides it needs to grow. organic cotton uses 91% less water, 72% less energy, and 100% fewer pesticides.
Hemp. Hemp is one of the most sustainable fabrics out there—it’s super strong yet lightweight and antibacterial. Plus, it’s great for outdoor wear!
Merino wool. This natural fiber comes from merino sheep and it’s a staple for regulating temperature—keeping you warm in the winter and fresh in the summer.
- Cashmere. This warming, high-end fiber comes from cashmere goats. It has been used since the 18th century and it’s soft and warm, but can be pricy. Even with a high price tag, cashmere is the staple of “buy less buy better”. It’s long-lasting and is the type of clothing you can pass on to your children or other family members.
Make The Sustainable Choice
At Rustek, we believe protecting and respecting the environment starts with the small choices we make every day—like the clothes we wear. That’s why our beanie collection is crafted using 100% organic cotton and merino wool. No blends. No plastic. No nonsense.
Check out our outdoors-approved collection of sustainable, 100% natural, American-made beanies.