Why Recycled Polyester isn’t necessarily Eco-Friendly

Synthetic Polyester certainly isn’t a product known for it’s “eco-friendliness”. After all, it’s still synthetic and has traditionally been manufactured using a toxic process, which isn’t earth-friendly or healthy.

So, one would think that recycled polyester fixes all this, right?

Well, not quite. There’s a bit more to it than simply blurting out “hey, let’s recycle it!”. Recycling a toxic product like synthetic polyester will often result in more toxins being released into the air or water. Also, recycling traditional polyester actually downgrades the quality of the polyester. There’s a limit to the number of times it can be recycled before it’s value is gone and it ends up in landfill. Hardly eco-friendly.

A more eco-friendly polyester could change this though. For example, Eco-Intelligent® Polyester, a registered trademark of Victor Innovatex, is a polyester that’s made using a more eco-friendly process, and using more eco-friendly ingredients. This has resulted in a polyester that can be recycled indefinitely, without losing it’s original quality.

Here’s a more detailed explanation:

Traditional Polyester

Traditional synthetic polyester has potential health hazards. This is because antimony is used during the manufacturing stage. Antimony is toxic to the heart, lungs, liver and skin, and manufacture of polyester produces a by-product called antimony trioxide. Over the long term, inhalation of antimony trioxide can cause chronic bronchitis and even emphysema. What’s more, the antimony trioxide mixes with the wastewater and you end up with toxic wastewater.

Recycling this class of polyester only exasperates things. The recycling process is a high-temperature process and you end up with antimony trioxide again. Plus, the recycling process actually results in a lower quality polyester. This is why the term “downcycling” is more appropriate than “recycling”. Over time, continued recycling leads to a polyester with less and less value - until it ends up in landfill.

While this is better than no recycling/(downcycling) at all, there’s definitely room for improvement.

Eco-Intelligent Polyester

With the inherent environmental and health issues related to traditional polyester recycling, the whole process needed to be redesigned. With the traditional method, the problem started with the original polyester. This is the first thing that needed to be changed. You may have heard the term “garbage in, garbage out”. Well, that term could also apply with recycling.

For the best recycling result, all ingredients of the original polyester should be healthy and environmentally friendly. Every ingredient needs to have the ability to be recycled into something of at least the same quality. That way, a new (and environmentally friendly) recycling process can be created that maintains the quality of the original product, and is friendly to the environment.

In 2001, a Canadian company called Victor Innovatex launched Eco-Intelligent Polyester. Victor Innovatex said their product was “environmentally sustainable”. This is because it can be recycled indefinitely. Any polyester that is produced from the recycling process should be able to maintain it’s original quality, no matter how many times it’s recycled.

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, Eco-Intelligent Polyester is currently only available in upholstery and interior trade (not clothing etc), but at least it’s a start.

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4 Responses to “Why Recycled Polyester isn’t necessarily Eco-Friendly”

  1. Chan Dai Man Says:

    Both Teijin and Asahi of Japan produce chemically recycle polyester which breaks down the post-consumed polyester into ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid and then re-polymerize the two chemicals into polyester. The quality of this “recycle” polyester is just as good as virgin polyester and can be re-cycle indefinitely. The fiber is available in both staple and filament form and is widely used in making clothings.

  2. Elagie Says:

    “Recycling this class of polyester only exasperates things.”

    I think the word you were looking for was exacerbates…unless of course it annoys things.

    : )

  3. Albertha Fuqua Says:

    I was very delighted to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this brilliant read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

  4. Curious Says:

    can someone tell me HOW polyester is recycled?