Recycled polyester pros and cons

Recycled polyester pros and cons

{ Some of my favourite polyester garments (some made from recycled polyester) and my research necessities ( black coffee <3 ) }

I have always had my doubts about polyester, especially virgin polyester and especially since realising it’s actually made from crude oil. In recent years, I have researched extensively about recycled polyester, both out of interest and for work, and I wanted to share the pros and cons I have learned so far.

Polyester is a synthetic fibre that was patented in 1941 and the use of the material has grown ever since. By 1968 synthetic fibres, such as polyester, surpassed the use of natural fibres including cotton and wool. Polyester is made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource, which in itself makes it an incredibly unsustainable material. In addition, the production process is energy-intensive, and the dyeing, in particular, requires high temperatures. The processing of petrochemicals results in large quantities of hazardous waste and the emissions can be irreversibly damaging to air, soil, and water.

The pros

So, if polyester is so bad, how can it be so popular? Well, polyester is a strong material, it’s easy to care for, and it’s wrinkle resistant. It doesn’t absorb moisture, which reduces the need for tumble drying after washing, and these are all great things from a consumer perspective. Production-wise it also uses significantly less water than the manufacturing of cotton, and last but not least; it is recyclable. Polyester can supposedly be recycled numerous times into a material of equal quality to that of the virgin fibre and there’s certainly enough polyester textiles out there to be recycled, which could potentially lower the demand for virgin polyester.

This leads me to the cons of recycled polyester. Because there’s one major con and I’ve only recently realized the extend of it.

The cons

For a long time, I thought recycled polyester was one of the most sustainable materials available today. Seeing as it is a material that can be recycled indefinitely and still preserve its quality (depending on the recycling method), it should be pretty sustainable, right? Well, no.

First of all, recycled polyester garments are often made from recycled PET bottles, not old garments. And while it’s great we’ve found a use for all those non-reusable plastic bottles we consume, it also means that there are still a lot of polyester garments out there, in landfills around the world, which do not biodegrade.

Second of all, have you heard of micro plastic? Apparently, when you wash your polyester clothes (virgin or recycled) they shed these little fibres that are so small that the filtering in our washing machines and wastewater treatment plants can’t catch them, so they end up in our waterways and our oceans, where fish will eventually eat them. And so, if you eat fish you’re probably eating plastic too.

While, the most sustainable thing to do, might be to burn all the plastic and synthetic fibres out there (in a responsible way of course – maybe creating some heating for houses in the process), and then never produce virgin materials out of crude oil ever again, it is probably not the most viable thing to do at this stage. After all, polyester is great for active wear, yoga wear and swimwear. I can’t think of a natural alternative that works just as well (although I am researching this as we speak) and admittedly, I even bought a shirt made from recycled polyester recently.

I don’t think we’ll get rid of polyester anytime soon so, here’s what I’m doing to minimise my impact and what I recommend you do too:

  1. Choose recycled polyester over virgin. Always. Choose natural materials when you can
  2. Choose quality over quantity – quality garments seem to shed less
  3. Wash less often and invest in a front-load washing machine – studies have shown that polyester clothes shed more fibres in a top loading machine than in a front loader.
  4. Use a fibre filter bags like Gubby Friend as they seem to make a difference when you launder – I’m definitely getting one.


Interested in learning more about recycled polyester? Patagonia has done a lot of research that they happily share on their blog The Cleanest Line.

Also, this report from The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is worth a read.



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Hella Lynggaard


  1. Hi Hella,
    Thanks for this article! Happy to stumble on your blog while exactly looking up pros and cons of recycled polyester. It seems to be a tricky subject. I like the initiative when companies collaborate with locals to collect plastic bottles from coastal communities to recycle them into fabric.
    Do you happen to know of any factories that collect polyester garments (as opposed to bottles) to be further recycled into yarn?

    • Hi Yanna, thank you so much for your comment; I’m so glad to year your found it useful. It is a really tricky subject. I actually don’t of any factories recycling polyester garments instead of bottles. I know Parley for the Oceans are collecting plastic waste from the oceans and recycling it into shoes in collaboration with Adidas and jeans in collaboration with G-star. I know it’s quite tricky to collect garments. Many companies do it, but the sorting and recycling process is still not in place to scale things. Swedish stockings are collecting old stockings to recycle, but of course that’s nylon and not polyester. Of the top of my head that’s all I can think of. Will get back to you if I remember anything else. x

  2. Appreciate your efforts regarding the Recycled Polyester as I have started my Fitness training recently and want to grab Adidas/ Nike Gym tanks usually made of Recycled Polyester I believe they are Skin(Asian) friendly. Wish me luck, returned to the Gym after a while.

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