What Are Recycled Fabrics?

Humans' daily lives revolve largely around clothing and the materials needed to manufacture it.

Beyond only keeping us warm and covering our bodies, clothing gives us a way to reflect our personalities and cultures.

The issue is that we make an excessive amount of stuff and use a lot of resources in the process.

At the same time, while we go about our daily lives, we produce a tremendous quantity of waste.

The average Australian generates about 4.9 pounds of waste every day, and this number is rising, according to the EPA. Similar tales are told in other nations as well.

What if we could make clothing from these waste materials? Keeping these waste materials, often plastics, in circulation prevents them from ending up in landfills and saves virgin resources, even though it won't solve our problems with fast fashion and having too many clothing.

A beginning, if not a flawless circular model. The more waste we can reuse and keep in use, the better for the environment and for us.

Would it surprise you to learn that several businesses are setting the standard for the use of recycled textiles and materials in clothing?

From our waste, a lot of recycled fabrics are produced. There are textiles produced from used fishing nets, water bottles, and even food scraps.

Not to mention the processing of natural fabrics like cotton again.

What Are Recycled Fabrics?

Natural or synthetic textiles can be found not just in clothing but also in vehicles, homes, hospitals, workplaces, cleaning supplies, recreational gear, and protective clothing, among other uses.

Recycled fabric is created when these textiles are sorted, graded, and then used once more to create fabrics for various applications.

The most common and well-liked fibres worldwide are synthetic fibres, sometimes known as man-made fibres, such polyester and nylon.

Since 2002, polyester fibre demand has been much higher than that of any other natural or synthetic fibre, and PCI Fibres, an English company, predicts that demand will rise even higher through 2030.

Since the creation of fabric requires significant amounts of water, chemicals, and the burning of fossil fuels, textiles made of standard polyester fibre are not environmentally friendly.

Both the raw ingredients and the byproducts are harmful, pollute the air and water, and have a number of negative health effects.

As a result, businesses have discovered ways to turn recycled plastic bottles or even polyester fabric into polyester.

To avoid fabric from going to waste or the garbage, significant progress has also been achieved in recycling other synthetic fibre types, such as nylon and spandex, to create recycled fabrics.

The use of recycled fabrics is very important since it has positive effects on the environment and the economy.

Recycled fabrics come in a variety of varieties and are produced in a variety of ways.

There are two primary types:

  • Textiles produced from used garments or fabric
  • Textiles made from waste materials like food scraps and plastic water bottles.


What Are They Made From? and What Variation Do Recycled Fabrics Come With?

As an illustration, we utilise recovered polyester materials to learn more about the procedures and techniques involved in recycling.

PET (polythene terephthalate), a raw material used to make recycled polyester fabric, comes from recycled plastic bottles that are disposed of in landfills.

Recycled polyester can be constantly recycled and uses 33-53% less energy than conventional polyester.

Additionally, unlike cotton, recycled polyester doesn't need a lot of land to be planted or gallons of water to produce it.

Used polyester fabrics can also be recycled, and in this case, the recycling process begins by shredding the polyester clothing.

The cloth is subsequently shredded, pulverised, and made into polyester chips. To create fresh filament fibres that are utilised to create new polyester fabrics, the chips are melted and spun.

There are two types of RPET (recycled polythene terephthalate) sources: post-industrial and post-consumer.

A minor portion of RPET can also be produced as a byproduct by companies that make fibre and yarn for the retail or clothing industries.

The post-consumer RPET comes from used bottles by people; post-industrial RPET is from unused packaging in manufacturing plants or by products of manufacturing. 

What’s the Production Process? 

There are two different RPET production processes: either chemical or mechanical recycling

The most common recycling method is frequently mechanical. To put the process into plain English, yarns are created by melting plastic and re-extruding it.

Only thermoplastic materials, or polymeric materials that can be remelted and processed into products, are of interest for mechanical recycling.

The mechanical recycling potential of thermoplastics like PET, PE, and PP is very high.

It's also crucial to be aware that the mechanical recycling of plastic waste typically only works for homogeneous, single polymer streams or for specific combinations of polymers that can be successfully separated into their respective components.


  • The PET bottles that are collected for use in beverage packaging are sorted, sterilised, dried, and broken down into pellets or chips.
  • To create yarn, the pieces are heated and spun through a spinneret.
  • Spools have been wrapped up in the yard.
  • The yarn would be treated, textured, and coloured in a manner similar to that of virgin polyester before being woven or knitted into polyester fabric.

Chemical recycling produces new plastic with the same quality as the original material, but it is less common than mechanical recycling since it is more expensive.

It is predicated on polyester's chemical breakdown into monomers, which serve as the building blocks of polymers.

After that, the polymer feedstock is repolymerized to provide recycled material that is more pure and consistently high-quality than that made mechanically.

However, producing chemical recycling requires more energy.

What Are the Environmental Benefits for Recycled Fabrics?

Utilizing rPET to create recycled materials significantly contributes to a reduction in energy use, pollution, and trash going to landfills.

In comparison to the manufacture of virgin materials, there is a significant reduction in CO2 emissions with the reuse of recycled fabrics in production processes or in consumption cycles.

Another advantage is that recovered polyester can be used to make clothing that can be recycled again with little to no quality loss, reducing waste.

In contrast to biodegradable fibres, polyester's non-biodegradability is really a positive.

Natural fibres like cotton and wool cannot be recycled the same way polyester can, and even when they do eventually decompose, it may take years.

Recycled polyester materials do not release methane when they disintegrate like wool, which adds to global warming.

Recycled materials are a more moral choice than silk because they don't injure any living things.

Utilizing recycled materials eases the strain on virgin resources, oil, and other chemicals used to make synthetic fibres.

Where Can We Find Them? 

The creation of polyester is energy-intensive and depends on a limited, non-renewable natural resource that we use in many other aspects of daily life, including the production of energy, gasoline, and plastics.

Approximately 65 to 70 percent of the world's polyester production, of which more than 65 percent is produced in China, is used for textiles.

Aside from China, America and India are home to numerous rPET producers. The production of PET beverage bottles uses the majority of the remaining 25 to 30 percent.

One of the highest quality recycled fabrics available today is provided by Vivify Textiles.

They offer many different kinds of materials and offer their clients high-quality services all around the world.

What Are the Environmental Benefits of Recycled Fabrics?

Recycled textiles are crucial in assisting the fashion industry's transition to a more circular paradigm.

Even if those components didn't begin as fabric, choosing recycled fabrics over virgin fabrics promotes the longest potential lifespan for all types of materials.

Additionally, research has shown that using recycled materials instead of virgin ones saves energy.

The Benefits:

  • Lower energy demand
  • Lessen the need for virgin resources
  • Positively impacts the circular economy
  • Lowers Landfill

Recycled Textiles

One of the oldest and most well-established recycling sectors in the world is textile recycling, although few people are familiar with the sector and its numerous operators.

Since the Napoleonic War generated a shortage of virgin wool and mandated that wool fibres be converted into new strands, textiles have been recycled.

The markets for recycled textile fibre are constantly changing, despite the fact that the textile industry has been using discarded fibres for at least 150 years.

In addition to turning pre- and post-consumer waste back into fibre, the textile recycling process also extracts fresh fibre from domestic trash. It takes place along a pipeline of interconnected elements.

Recycled from plastic soda bottles is PET (polythene terephthalate), the chemical that is used to make some polyester.

Even though recycling is socially acceptable and environmentally responsible, 4-6 percent of landfills contain recoverable textile items because used clothing and other textile trash are not diverted to the recycling process, mostly due to consumer ignorance.

According to the Council for Textile Recycling, Americans consume 67.9 pounds of fibre per person annually, with over 40 pounds (or 59 percent) going to waste.

The United Kingdom disposes of the most textile waste (90 percent) in the landfill among the nations for which statistics are available, followed by Germany (65 percent), Denmark (30 percent), and Switzerland (20 percent).

A Global Problem

Western consumption habits promote excess, which has a detrimental effect on the sustainability of the planet.

Receiving surplus secondhand clothing from industrialised nations is essential for many people in poor nations. According to Simpson (1996), almost 34,000 tonnes of discarded clothing are shipped to Africa every year.

As commodities cross borders to satisfy market demand, illicit marketplaces have developed because not all nations permit the importing of old clothing.

The three main locations for processing recycled clothing are Dewsbury, United Kingdom; Prato, Italy; and, more recently, India.

These processing facilities collect worn clothing from all around the world, sort it based on colour and fibre content, mechanically transform it back into fibre, then reprocess it into new yarns and finished goods.

Recycled Fabric from Clothing

It's challenging to recycle clothing. Eliminating any apparel that can be worn again is the first step.

Third-world nations frequently import these garments.

Diverse fibre types need to be segregated into various materials in order to recycle clothing properly.

The order of sorting for textiles must be usage (clothing versus linens), fabric type (synthetic versus natural), and finally colour. This can be both incredibly expensive and very labor-intensive.

The textiles are mechanically shred after being separated, producing a fibre that can be used to create new materials.

The yarn is cleaned, and occasionally blended with other fibres, before being respun and prepared to be knitted or woven into a new item.

In reality, many of the fabrics that are recycled in this way are downcycled; they are first used as rags.

In the European Union, about 35% of donated clothing is converted into industrial waste. Additionally, the fibres are utilised to stuff carpets, furniture, and insulation.

In order to make polyester chips, which can then be utilised to make new fibres, the textiles that include polyester can be shredded, granulated, and converted into chips.

Recycled Fabric Made from Other Waste Materials

Other waste products can also be used to create recycled fabrics.

These materials go through a variety of operations, such as gathering, sorting, washing, and drying, followed by processing and manufacture.

New garments or other textile products can then be made using the fabrics.

Use of recycled plastic bottles is one of the most popular.

Repreve is a U.S.-based producer of recycled polyester manufactured from used plastic bottles.

In their products, many brands substitute this fabric for virgin polyester.

Another excellent example is the business Aquafil, which creates the Econyl fabric from recycled nylon.

To make new nylon fibres, they gather used carpet and fishing nets. Also very well-liked, especially among swimwear companies, is econyl.

The Process of Recycling Textiles

Worn textile fibre is sold in a variety of sectors, including industrial purposes, used garments exported to developing nations, and vintage collectibles.

Three main sources are the traditional sources of textile waste:

  • processing of fibres, yarns, and fabrics
  • the production of sewed goods
  • throw away once its useful life has expired.

Because the fibres, dyes, and finishes are well-known and in pristine shape, textile and cutting wastes at the manufacturing level are regarded as pre-consumer waste and are therefore simpler to recycle.

Post-consumer trash is more challenging to recycle since it has an unknown origin and a wide range of quality and condition.

The challenge of processing used, mixed fibres is the subject of ongoing study and development.

Will Recycled Fabrics Fix Fast Fashion?

Recycled materials have many advantages, but they are not a panacea for the excessive consumption brought on by rapid fashion.

Stopping from purchasing more clothing is the finest action we can all take to rein in the excesses of rapid fashion. Read Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Ways to stimulate thought.

Other Ways to Reduce Your Impact

Here are some excellent tips on how to lessen the impact of your wardrobe.

Shop Your Wardrobe: 

Try your best to find new uses for the clothing in your closet rather than purchasing new ones.

Support Sustainable Clothing Brands

Choose well-made, high-quality, sustainable clothing that will last you for many years rather than purchasing more cheap clothing.

Shop Vintage: 

In recent years, vintage apparel has become very popular.

You will not only honour by purchasing previously used vintage apparel but also keep up with the cyclical trends.

The cost is another fantastic advantage of vintage apparel.

You may search through some amazing vintage treasures from certain Instagram vintage stores that are leading the way.

You might even locate a physical vintage shop in your neighbourhood. Both your ideals and your sense of style should not be compromised.

Follow the 30-Wears Rule: 

The 30-Wears rule, a phrase coined by Livia Firth, founder of Eco-Age, might assist you in making wiser purchasing selections.

Consider whether you'll wear a piece of clothes at least thirty times before purchasing it.

Purchase it if the response is in the affirmative. Buy it if the response is No, not No!

It is a waste of money to purchase clothing that you will only wear once or twice because they will most likely be thrown out.

Recycle Your Clothes: 

You have a lot of choices for recycling your old garments. Learn more in our post on sustainable clothing recycling, How to Recycle Clothes.

Support ethical, sustainable, and eco-conscious brands.


There are so many incredible brands that are now making the decision to become more sustainable, and they all need our financial assistance to expand, step up their efforts, influence other firms, and have an impact on the fashion industry.

Think about the materials a brand uses in its products before making a purchase. It's a tremendous step forwards if they're employing recycled fabrics.

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