If you browsed a new swimsuit on the Internet this summer, you might encounter the latest sustainable fashion trend-swim shorts made of bikinis and plastic bottles, ostensibly transferred from the ocean.
According to data from the retail intelligence platform Edited, in the year to June, sales of swimwear and sportswear described as containing recycled synthetic materials among online retailers in the United States and the United Kingdom more than doubled from 2020.
Plastic waste permeates almost every field. Sports shoe brands, from Nike and Adidas to “sustainable” brands such as Veja and Greats, rely on its green certification.
Fashion designers have created weird plastics It looks like Make a statement on the runway. This year Japanese designer Tomo Koizumi show Lots of recycled plastic organza dresses in bubble gum pink, yellow and blue. In 2019, Prada re-released its iconic 90s nylon bag as a recycled version.
You can even buy all of them with an American Express credit card production From plastic waste.
It can be said that the prosperity began about 15 years ago. The American manufacturer Unifi launched a recycled polyester fiber in 2007, and outdoor apparel companies Patagonia and Polartec were its first wool coat customers, which became a meme in the financial industry.
Now, this fiber accounts for nearly 40% of its sales revenue, and about 800 brands use this fiber. The rest of Unifi’s products are so-called virgin synthetic materials.
In terms of its direct impact on the environment, switching to recycled polyester is an effective option. According to the textile exchange, a non-profit organization in the industry, it produces about 70% less greenhouse gas emissions than virgin polyester.
“If a brand is trying to have a greater impact on emissions reduction, then recycling raw materials is a good choice. Because they can start small and scale up,” said Siena Shepard, climate strategy manager at the Textile Exchange.
Like most sustainability trends, this trend has a problem: your recycled plastic swimsuits are most likely to end up in landfills or return to the sea, because washing causes microplastics to enter the water system.
But for fashion brands, the more pressing issue is the rising cost of recycled plastics.
The same plastic needed to make clothing — recycled polyethylene terephthalate plastic, or rPET — already has a huge market: recycled consumer product packaging.
Supply is tight, partly due to the world’s poor recycling capacity.
Adidas said: “In recent years, more and more recycled polyester has been used, making the purchase cost more competitive with virgin polyester.” Adidas said that the company has used 60% of its polyester for recycled inventory.
Until 2019, the price of rPET used to make recycled polyester is 1,050 Euros per ton, which is about 200 Euros cheaper than virgin PET. The price has now jumped to 1,435 euros. The more expensive, usually transparent, food-grade rPET used for packaging consumables costs 1,800 Euros per ton.
For USP’s fast fashion group, which aims to produce clothing as cheaply and quickly as possible, the extra cents paid for recycled polyester began to increase, affecting profit margins T-shirt for 5 dollars.
in a Polls According to data from the Royal Art, Manufacturing and Business Association, among the growing British group, Asos, Boohoo, its PrettyLittleThing subsidiary and Missguided have found recycled synthetic materials in only 3% of their products.
H&M is the world’s second-largest fashion retailer. It also owns the Cos, Arket, &Other Stories and Weekday brands. It has committed to using 100% recyclable and sustainably sourced materials by 2030. The group stated that currently only 5.8% of products contain recycled materials.
“Our goal is to increase the use of recycled polyester every year,” H&M said. “Although we always set ambitious goals for ourselves, we do so based on our own sustainability team and the expertise of our various partners, which makes our goals both ambitious and realistic.”
“The main reason is just the accumulation of voluntary commitments, sustainable development goals and legislation, and Europe does not have enough supply to allow everyone to do this,” said Ben Brooks, head of recycled plastics at S&P Global Platts. .
The new tax on virgin PET may further boost demand for rPET.
This year, the European Union imposed a tax on original plastic packaging, and the United Kingdom will impose a tax on packaging that does not contain 30% recycled content by April 2022.
In response, some fiber manufacturers and plastic giants began to gain their own recycling capabilities.
Indorama Ventures, the world’s largest PET producer, receives US$300 million loan Assistance from the International Finance Corporation to help it expand its PET bottle recycling capacity to 750,000 metric tons per year by 2025.
DAK Americas, another major PET producer, get An rPET factory was established in the United States in 2019. The chemical group Dow Chemical has partnered with recycling company Mura Technology to source rPET from its new plant in Teeside, UK.
Industry pioneer Unifi also owns a PET bottle recycling facility in North Carolina. “In order to increase the supply of this waste, we need consumers, businesses and the government to work together to increase the recycling rate,” said Jay Hetwig, vice president of commercialization.
Even if fashion brands achieve their recycling content goals and the world improves their recycling capabilities, there is another imminent long-term problem: recycled polyester itself cannot be mechanically recycled. Like most virgin plastics, it may end up in landfill.
The only way to achieve large-scale recycling of textiles to textile recycling is through Chemical recovery, A process of decomposing plastic waste into chemicals or oils to provide raw materials for future plastics.
Petrochemical companies such as Shell, Dow and Indorama are investing in chemical recovery technologies.Several start-up companies, such as Wear again, Specializing in the chemical recycling of textiles to textiles.
Rob Stier, chief petrochemical analyst at S&P Global Platts, said: “In the long run, the solution for plastic recycling, especially polyester garments, will be chemical recycling.”
However, “[these] There are still a few years away from large-scale commercial operations, and their carbon footprint can be very bad and expensive,” Stiers added. “So yes, it will meet the demand, but at what cost? “