Sustainability 101: What's the deal with Recycled Polyester?

Sustainability 101: What's the deal with Recycled Polyester?

We hand pick all of our materials, with ethics, function, and feel in mind. Four our latest collection, we've decided to give you a choice between raw, sustainable fabric like Satin Tencel, which comes from wood pulp, and fabric made from reclaimed polyester, or recycled plastic bottles. 

There are pros and cons to any sustainable material, and unless entirely circular (it can be composted, give back to the earth, rather than poisoning it, and somehow offset all the energy, water and carbon used to fabricate it), then no fabric is 100% sustainable, and we don't trust any brand that says otherwise. At Birdsong we either use compostable, naturally derived fabrics (our Tencel and Organic Cotton) or reclaimed fibres that would otherwise take hundreds of years to biodegrade.

Recycled polyester falls into the latter category. Made from recycled plastic bottles, making fabric from post consumer waste is one way to stop it going into landfill. However, it still sheds in the wash, releasing microfibres into waterways. So what can we do about it?

  1. Wash less regularly, and choose Recycled for items you won't wash as often, like our bones print skirt. Each of our orders comes with beautifully detailed care guide, printed on recycled paper.
  1. Use a Guppy Friend when washing our recycled polyester styles, to catch most of the microfibres. The Guppyfriend Washing Bag is the first scientifically approved solution to prevent microfibers from entering into rivers and oceans. It results in fewer fiber losses and thus helps your garments last longer. Those microfibers that break during washing are captured inside the bag. The profits from the sale of the Guppyfriend Washing Bag go to STOP! Micro Waste and the STOP! Plastic Academy to raise awareness about (micro)plastic pollution and to educate students, adults and industry partners about the problem.

Sustainable brands have a great deal to weigh up. Independent London brand Birdsong primarily uses eco-fabrics like Tencel and organic cotton, but its most recent collection also introduced recycled polyester. “Eco-fabrics may be less colour-fast and hand-spun fabrics can shrink. Tencel has a bigger shipping footprint and organic cotton uses a huge amount of water,” says co-founder Sophie Slater. “Recycled synthetics are hardier, so we wanted to present the information and let customers make informed decisions.”” - Vogue Business

  1. Ask brands to stop producing new polyester. Polyester is made from oil or plastic, and accounts for 65% of the fabrics being produced today. The extraction of crude oil is a main driver of environmental devastation and pollution, and while 70% of plastic bottles are going unrecycled, we might as well make clothing from our biggest existing asset of 2020 - trash.  Indeed, a 2017 report found that manufacturing rPET generates 79% less carbon emissions than producing virgin polyester.

At the end of the day, our main purpose is to provide living wages to communities in London who’ve typically been denied the dignity of fair pay, and fulfilling work. We’re trying to do that in the least environmentally damaging way possible, but we’re always open to new solutions. We believe that using recycled materials is one of those.

But don’t take our word for it - do your own research. Here’s a list of reading we found useful below:

Further reading:

How sustainable is recycled polyester? - Fashion United

Should synthetic clothing be sold with a warning? - Vogue Business

Is Recycled Polyester Green or Greenwashing? - Common Objective


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