The Downside of Recycled Polyester: Why It’s Not Always the Best Choice

Are you a fan of sustainable fashion? Do you actively seek out clothing made from recycled materials?

While recycled polyester may seem like a great option for eco-conscious consumers, it’s important to be aware of the potential disadvantages.

Disadvantages of Recycled Polyester:

  • Shedding Microplastics – Just like regular polyester, recycled polyester sheds microplastics when you wash it. These tiny plastic fibers end up in waterways and are so small that wastewater treatment plants can’t filter them out. They have been shown to cause problems for both human and animal health.
  • Limited Recycling Options – Recycling plastic has its limitations. Many garments are not made from polyester alone, but rather a blend of polyester and other materials. In that case, it is more difficult, if not impossible, to recycle them. Even clothes that are 100 percent polyester can’t be recycled forever. There are two ways to recycle PET: mechanically and chemically.
  • Environmental Impact – While recycled polyester may seem like a more sustainable option, it still has a significant environmental impact. The textile fibers never biodegrade and can only break down into smaller and smaller pieces of microplastics in nature. When the clothes or shoes are worn, movement, abrasion, and washing release microplastics into the environment.

Environmental Impact

Water Pollution

  • Recycled polyester production requires large amounts of water, which can lead to water pollution.
  • The dyeing process of recycled polyester can also lead to water pollution, as chemicals used in the process can be released into waterways.
  • Water pollution can harm aquatic life and have negative impacts on human health.


  • Recycled polyester, like all textiles, eventually ends up in landfills.
  • Landfills are already overflowing with textile waste, and the addition of recycled polyester only exacerbates the problem.
  • Textile waste in landfills can take hundreds of years to decompose, and can release harmful chemicals into the environment during this time.


  • The production of recycled polyester emits carbon emissions, contributing to climate change.
  • The transportation of recycled polyester also contributes to carbon emissions.
  • Carbon emissions can have negative impacts on air quality and human health.

Petroleum Use

  • Recycled polyester is made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource.
  • The production of recycled polyester requires crude oil, which is a fossil fuel.
  • The use of fossil fuels contributes to global oil demand and can impact petroleum prices.


  • The production of recycled polyester can have negative impacts on biodiversity.
  • The extraction of crude oil can harm natural habitats and impact biodiversity.
  • The transportation of recycled polyester can also have negative impacts on biodiversity.


  • Recycled polyester, like all synthetic textiles, sheds microplastics when washed.
  • Microplastics can enter waterways and oceans, harming aquatic life and impacting human health.
  • The shedding of microplastics from recycled polyester can also contribute to plastic waste in the environment.

Overall, the production and use of recycled polyester has several negative impacts on the environment, including water pollution, landfill waste, emissions, petroleum use, impacts on biodiversity, and the shedding of microplastics. It is important to consider these impacts when making decisions about textile production and consumption.


Energy Use

  • Recycled polyester requires less energy to produce than virgin polyester.
  • During the manufacturing process, recycled polyester uses up to 59% less energy than virgin polyester.
  • This is because recycled polyester production requires less energy to melt the polyester chips and turn them into fiber.


  • Recycled polyester manufacturing uses fewer chemicals than virgin polyester.
  • The production of virgin polyester requires more chemicals that are harmful to the environment.
  • Recycled polyester production reduces the amount of chemicals released into the environment.

Recycling Method

  • There are two ways to recycle PET: mechanically and chemically.
  • Mechanical recycling involves breaking down the original polyester into chips and then melting them to create new fibers.
  • Chemical recycling involves breaking down the polyester at a molecular level to create the original polyester monomer.
  • Advanced recycling processes are being developed to improve the efficiency of chemical recycling.


  • Advanced technologies are being developed to create recycled polyester that is of equal quality to virgin polyester.
  • These technologies include using advanced recycling processes and molecular recycling.
  • The use of technology in recycled polyester manufacturing is improving the quality of the final product.

Polyester Chips

  • Recycled polyester chips are created from recycled plastic bottles.
  • The chips are melted and turned into new fibers.
  • The use of recycled polyester chips reduces the amount of plastic waste in landfills.

Overall, manufacturing recycled polyester has several advantages over virgin polyester. It uses less energy, fewer chemicals, and reduces plastic waste in landfills.

Quality and Durability


Recycled polyester is known for its high quality.

  • The recycled polyester fibers are carefully sorted and cleaned to remove any impurities.
  • The fibers are then melted down and spun into yarns that are of high quality.
  • Recycled polyester fabrics are available in a wide range of colors and patterns.
  • The fabrics are easy to dye, and the colors are long-lasting.


Recycled polyester is also known for its durability. It is a strong and resilient material that can withstand wear and tear.

  • Recycled polyester fibers are strong and resilient, making them resistant to tearing and damage.
  • The fabrics made from recycled polyester are long-lasting and can withstand repeated washing and drying.
  • Recycled polyester fabrics are resistant to wrinkles, which means that they always look neat and tidy.
  • The fabrics are also resistant to shrinkage, so they maintain their shape and size even after multiple washes.

Quality vs Durability

This means that clothes made from recycled polyester are not only fashionable but also practical. They are long-lasting, easy to care for, and always look good.


  • Advanced Technologies – One possible disadvantage of recycled polyester is the advanced technologies manufacturers need to use to create it. These technologies can be expensive and require significant investment.
  • Lack of Availability – Some companies and consumers are concerned about the lack of availability of recycled polyester. This can lead to higher prices due to limited supply.
  • Blended Materials – Many garments are not made from polyester alone, but rather a blend of polyester and other materials. In that case, it is more difficult, if not impossible, to recycle them. Even clothes that are 100 percent polyester can’t be recycled forever.
  • Environmental Costs – The price for new plastic-based fabrics doesn’t include all their environmental costs. So new polyester often costs less to buy than what it takes to recycle this plastic. That puts recycled polyesters and other synthetic fabrics at a disadvantage.
  • Limited Capacity – The main drawbacks of chemical recycling are the high cost and relatively limited capacity. However, there are various new initiatives for improving and lowering the cost, spearheaded by companies such as Carbios, GR3N, Loop Industries, Resinate Materials Group and Worn Again.


Recycled polyester is becoming more popular among consumers who are concerned about the environment. However, there are still some accessibility issues that need to be addressed.


Recycled polyester is not yet as widely available as traditional polyester. However, there are many companies that are working to change this. Some of the most well-known brands that offer recycled polyester products include Adidas, Nike, and Patagonia.


Many retailers are now starting to offer recycled polyester products. However, not all retailers carry these products, and some may only offer a limited selection.

Clothing Brands

This is a great way for consumers to support sustainable fashion. Some of the most popular clothing brands that use recycled polyester include Adidas, Nike, and Patagonia.


The affordability of recycled polyester items may be an obstacle, as they can cost the same or more than traditional polyester.


Ethical and Sustainable Fashion

Circularity of Polyester

However, it is still better than virgin polyester, as it reduces the amount of new plastic being produced.

Sustainable Materials

Some examples include organic cotton, hemp, linen, and Tencel. These materials are grown without harmful chemicals and are biodegradable, making them a better choice for the environment.


When polyester garments are discarded, they can sit in landfills for hundreds of years, releasing harmful chemicals into the environment.

Garment Recycling

Garment recycling is an important part of the circular fashion economy. When garments are no longer wearable, they can be recycled into new fabrics or products.

However, the current infrastructure for garment recycling is limited. There are not enough garment recycling centers, and many clothing items are not designed with recycling in mind.

Environmental Cost

The environmental cost of polyester production is high.

Corporations and Climate Targets

Many corporations have made commitments to reduce their environmental impact and increase sustainability. For example, some companies have pledged to use only recycled polyester by a certain year, or to reduce their carbon emissions.

However, it is important to hold these companies accountable and ensure that they are following through on their commitments.


In conclusion, while recycled polyester may seem like a great option for sustainable fashion, it does come with its fair share of disadvantages. Here are some key takeaways to keep in mind:

  • Microplastic pollution: Recycled polyester may help reduce plastic waste, but it still contributes to microplastic pollution. When clothes made from recycled polyester are washed, they release microfibers that can end up in our waterways and oceans. This can harm marine life and potentially even end up in our food chain.
  • Limited recyclability: While recycled polyester can be recycled, it’s not a perfect solution. Clothes made from a blend of materials or with added embellishments cannot be recycled. Additionally, recycled polyester can only be recycled a limited number of times before it loses its quality and can no longer be used.
  • Energy-intensive production: Recycled polyester still requires a significant amount of energy to produce. The process of turning plastic bottles into polyester yarn involves melting the plastic and then spinning it into fibers. This process requires a lot of energy and can release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
  • Chemicals and dyes: Like traditional polyester, recycled polyester may be treated with chemicals and dyes that can be harmful to the environment and human health. While there are efforts to use more eco-friendly dyes and treatments, this is still a concern to keep in mind.
  • Lack of biodegradability: While recycled polyester may reduce plastic waste, it still adds to the problem of non-biodegradable materials in landfills. Unlike natural fibers like cotton or wool, polyester does not biodegrade and can take hundreds of years to break down.

As consumers, we can make more informed choices by understanding the impact of our clothing choices and seeking out more sustainable alternatives.

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