Recycled Plastic on The High Street – Is it sustainable and which brands are best?

It’s becoming increasingly common to see clothing products on the high street which claim to be made from ‘recycled plastic’. But the truth is most of these products are not as angelic as they seem. Many brands lack transparency and fail to disclose the source of their recycled plastic, plus plenty claim their products to be made with recycled materials when only a small percentage of the product is. This is why retailers that lack third party certifications are often criticised for greenwashing.

Of course one opinion is that recycling plastic bottles into clothes is not really a sustainable solution, as this kind of ‘downcycling’ prevents the materials being recycled again, acting as a dead end; in other words it is not part of a circular system like the bottles might be otherwise. Furthermore, it does’t remove the problem of microplastics, which most likely will still be shedding into the water system every time you wash the item.

But its true that if you are going to buy clothes made from synthetic materials, it’s better to buy those made from recycled plastic than virgin. It can, however, be difficult to sift through all the claims and get enough detail to make an informed choice – so we’ve made a start for you!

Here is a quick rundown (in no particular order) of what we have found to be the best options on the high street and online…

 

1. Zara

Unlike some brands, Zara’s recycled polyester is actually certified by the Recycled Claim Standard and the Global Recycled Standard, which verifies recycled content in products to help consumers make better choices.

Zara also state the feedstock of their recycled PET, which comes from plastic bottles, plus they (roughly) disclose the volumes of recycled synthetics in each of their ‘sustainable’ products.

Their ‘Join Life’ collection contains the lowest number of synthetic products out of all the high street ‘Responsible Edits’, at 45%. To put it in perspective, the main collections of some brands contain up to 85% synthetic products.

 

2. Esprit

Esprit have made a pledge to reduce their use of synthetic fibres and only use them when needed, for example in outerwear and sports kit. They’ve also promised to use ONLY fully recycled synthetics within the next 5 years.

The brand reported a reduction in their use of plastics in clothing from 2018-2020 (down from 29% to 24%) and their 2020 figures suggest that 46% of their polyester comes from recycled sources. Again, they state the source of their polyester to be PET bottles, and their polyamide comes from old carpets and textiles.

 

3. Girlfriend Collective

For sports and casual wear, Girlfriend Collective have pretty good credentials. Rated ‘Good’ by GoodOnYou, their second highest possible rating, the brand uses a pretty good proportion of recycled materials and reuses some of their offcuts to minimise waste.

Their leggings and bras are made from 79% recycled PET (you guessed it – from plastic bottles) and their LITE leggings are made from 83% recycled nylon which comes from repurposed fishing nets and other waste.

 

Being aware of greenwashing is one way to reduce your impact through your fashion consumption, but there’s more you can do after the purchase. We also recommend you follow these tips to avoid microplastics pollution when you wash your clothes:

  • Get a microfibre filter. These include bags to put the clothes into before you wash them, balls which collect loose fibres in your machine, or built in attachments for your washing machine.
  • Wash your clothes less. This might sound a bit gross but there are some clothes that don’t really need to be washed after every wear, for example that top you just wore to work? If it’s not stained and still smells fresh enough then hang it back up to be worn again!
  • Use cooler, shorter cycles on your washing machine.
  • Aim for full loads. Wait until you have enough clothes to fill the machine before you turn it on, or offer to do washing for family members or housemates if you only have a few bits each!

Check out our infographic on microplastics here and our blog on sustainable wardrobe habits here!

Plus – The problem with single use bottles

 

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