Envirosax will once again produce bags using rPET in our last production run for 2020. The last time we manufactured using rPET was 2010! As all new ranges going forward will be produced using rPET, we take another look at rPET vs. Virgin Polyester.
There have been substantial changes in how polyester is recycled in the last decade, leading to a more robust product withstanding the abuse consumers will give when using for shopping bags and even clothing.
Quick question - Should we use recycled polyester (rPET) for our bags? Or maybe natural fibers?
Cotton (organic or not) is nice and natural, although it does have the disadvantage of using a LOT of natural resources every year for a new crop. It also tends not to last as long as polyester. These fibers decompose if they are landfilled correctly and can also be burned for fuel to generate electricity. Although breakthroughs have been made into recycled cotton, it is a time-consuming process and costly. Hemp and Linen, both natural fibers, are expensive, especially when ensuring that environmental practices are taken to create the viscose fabric in an eco-friendly manner.
While Envirosax has made bags using natural organic fibers in the past and tends to in the future, the priority was finding a solution to our polyester range.
Theoretically, rPET can be recycled again and again into other products that require less strength, such as pillowcases or fill for a jacket. Recycling might continue until the PET is completely worn out. However, with each recycling cycle, the PET loses strength and aesthetic quality.
With over 60% of first-time PET production used to create polyester textiles, rPET is undoubtedly more ethical than virgin PET. If that's the case, why don't we see more PET recycled? After all, every day, millions of PET water bottles are used, and there must be a glut sitting somewhere?
The honest answer is there is a vast industrial infrastructure built around creating virgin PET. Virgin PET is made from natural gas and natural gas liquids. In places like the US, new fracking techniques have made natural gas a massive and very lucrative industry. If less natural gas is needed due to recycling existing PET, there's less money to be made from those costly wells.
Nonetheless, we believe consumers will drive this movement. When Envirosax started in 2004, we thought that we would move to RPET reasonably quickly. In 2008, we started our first production run using Unifi Repreve certified rPET. The material cost was at least 45% higher than Virgin PET and the polymers weaker, leading to bleeding during the printing process. Raising the RRP only slighter and absorbing the brunt of the increased production cost was not viable as most consumers in 2008/09 weren't as mindful as they are today.
rPET is the answer to a problem that already exists: too many plastic bottles. We can convert the material into almost anything, and it will last a long time. Until we can get everyone to drink from reusable bottles, do we need this technology to keep the planet healthy?
Do you use rPET in your business?