What is rPET plastic?
rPET stands for recycled polyethylene terephthalate - in clearer terms this is the most common type of plastic resin. It is made by recycling previously used plastics, such as plastic bottles. Once the virgin PET has been collected, it is then sorted, cleaned, and transformed into rPET. To create the virgin PET, manufacturers extract crude oil and natural gas from the Earth, then process and heat it to form a molten liquid. They spin this liquid into fibers to create polyester fabric we are used to, or they mold and solidify it into the PET plastic containers.
PET is a more familiar term for containers and bottles, in fact it is probably one of the most common materials used. When it is used as a fiber, polyester can be a useful fabric to use as clothing or in homeware such as carpets and blankets.
How sustainable is it?
Since rPET can be used to make clothes from plastic bottles, it has the benefit of giving another life to a product and by doing this, it in some way supports a circular economy. The main purpose of reusing this material is so that it avoids ending up in landfills or polluting waters. rPET is great considering it is being recycled and reused and it is surely a much better option than virgin PET.
Let us not forget that the source of rPET is primarily virgin PET which has so many negatives. PET has a very big carbon footprint and production is very energy intensive. It takes hundreds to thousands of years to decompose (a plastic bottle alone can take up to 450 years) and because of this, it ends up in landfill and in waters, harming sea animals. This is not news to most people as over the decades we have become aware, however many seem to look past it when they are reminded that rPET is recycled product.
There are a few things you should know, very few PET containers can actually re-enter the cycle as food-grade containers and less than half of plastic bottles purchased each year make it to recycling facilities, with only 7% turning back into usable bottles.
Once rPET has been made into another product such as a fabric, it cannot be recycled again - its lifespan ends and it will eventually end up in landfill if people do not continually work on fixing their products. In its fabric form, polyester and rPET fabrics contain tiny fibers also known as microfibers or microplastics. Every time the fabric is washed, thousands of these small plastic particles shed and are released into the water, which ultimately enters into lakes, rivers and the ocean. These microplastics not only pollute the water but also harm the animals that live in it. When these animals ingest microplastics, the particles can get tangled up in their digestive tracts and disrupt the normal function of their bodies. Evidently, many of us consume the animals that live in these waters and therefore we end up ingesting plastics and harming our own bodies too.