When recycled polyester and bioplastic deceive eco-friendliness

Posted by Info Montloup on

Written by William Fournier. 

A few weeks ago, we shared an article shedding light on bioplastics and the many myths and realities revolving around its’ use in the fashion industry. Digging deeper into this topic seemed appropriate to set the record straight on the use of these synthetic materials and the inevitable consequences associated. We also wanted to take the opportunity to talk about rPET’s, another distasteful factor revolving around recycled plastics, which is ever-present in our environment. As we take a closer look, we quickly realize that these materials are far from eco-friendly.

For starters, let’s establish how bioplastics and rPET’s are made.

PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, is one of seven plastics that can be recycled. This plastic is mainly found in bottles used for commercial juice, water, or other beverages. It's the most recyclable, but it cannot be mixed with other types of plastic in the recycling bin. It must be carefully sorted because recycling companies no longer take the time to do so. If we’re mentioning PET in this article, it’s because it is reused to make our clothes, and despite this seemingly eco-friendly alternative, it is not without damageable consequences on our health and our environment.

As for bioplastic, it is a plastic in which petroleum is replaced with an organic matter of sorts, such as cane sugar, beetroot or corn. This substitute counts for 1% of the actual textile fiber market, and the objective is to reach 36% of the market by 2024. The main issue with bioplastic is that we cannot count on it being the unique composing factor for the moment. It must still be mixed with a petroleum-based plastic to create polyester, otherwise it is too fragile on its’ own.

Although bioplastic is said to be regenerative, tighter measures regarding recycling protocols must be appointed and we must above all else reduce mass production.

On a more optimistic note, even if we don’t resolve micro-plastic pollution concerns, a controlled use of bioplastics could help create a somewhat more eco-conscious fashion industry that would no longer depend on synthetic fibers to exist. Furthermore, careful farmland management would be necessary. Monocultures and excessive exploitation are as damageable for the environment as oil extraction. Replacing ancestral forests with corn fields destined to bioplastic production would be counter effective.

Investing in more expansive research would probably lead to the creation of a truly sustainable and solid bioplastic to replace modern polyester.

When we gather all this information, we realise that bioplastics really aren’t that “bio”. By putting the words “bio” and “plastic” together, people will most likely associate this to being organic, when in this case the term “bio”purely means the product is of natural origin, not eco-friendly per say.

Bioplastics such as recycled polyester which are considered the future of ecofriendly plastic are still too damageable for the environment as we are still unable to use it to full capacity. Better waste management is the starting point to optimising PET recycling.

We must remind ourselves that recycling is good, but conscious consumption is better! Big companies shower us with the “recycled polyester” sales pitch, when producing half as many products to start with would be the one real way to have a significant impact on the planet. Mass production and excessive use of synthetic fabrics is much more concerning than the existence of the plastic itself within the fashion industry. Furthermore, polyester blended with other fabrics or substances (organic or not) is not recyclable, as modern technology does not yet allow to separate various textile compounds. Thegoodgood article reminds us that this plastic, even when recycled, is never regenerative. “A recycled polyester garment (or a PET recycled bottle) will most likely end its’ life at the top of a hopeless mound. PET loses strength and quality when recycled. It therefore isn’t recyclable infinitely[1].” This loss of quality within the recycling process explains why we cannot create 100% recycled polyester products without adding new matter. The idea of using recycled plastics goes hand in hand with petroleum production to be created.

What is vegan fur and leather?

I do not wish by any means to encouragethe leather or natural fur industries, but I do wish to expose concerns I have with their vegan substitutes, which are all polyester based. Brands have vastly been using terminologies such as vegan leather and fur, or the use of "fake" wool, i.e. acrylic, to commercialise their products, when in reality, these alternatives pollute just as much by releasing thousands of microplastic fibers in the water with every wash, and therefore highly contribute to polluting our oceans. “Vegan” leather will also wear out much faster than actual leather, and acrylic does not have the antibacterial properties of actual wool and must therefore be washed much more frequently.


All to say, we mustn’t let our guard down when it comes to many greenwashing tactics behind recycled polyester, vegan leather, or bioplastics. These words have a positive resonance, and companies use this to their advantage, by putting forth deceptive values to promote their products and trick consumers.


[1] THEGOODGOOD, Le polyester recyclé est-il durable ?, publié le 16 novembre 2020, (En ligne), adresse URL : https://www.thegoodgoods.fr/mode/le-polyester-recycle-est-il-durable/?fbclid=IwAR0ZDyRgXumrW5kDH9dQcckmMXXW4xh-PstW4TGs_I1q1lYVZc7wz-_OkW

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