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  • Writer's pictureMichaela A de Guire

What Are Recycled Fabrics?

Updated: Apr 16, 2023

Have you ever read the garment label with the fabric content and wondered what recycled wool is? Or recycled cotton? Well, like anything else that has been recycled it is used, or waste product turned into something else. Let me explain this more in depth regarding fabrics.

Recycled fabric is recycled fabrics and garment waste that after manufacturing the fibers into a usable fabric and post-consumer finished garments, are no longer needed by you, the consumer, are then recycled. That is to be turned into “new” usable fabric to then be used for more garments.


COTTON


Recycled cotton is post-industry and post consumer cotton waste turned into a usable fabric. Post industry is cotton scraps that are made when cutting the pieces out to turn into a wearable garment and the in between the pieces needed for the garment are left over. Recycling finished garments and the cotton scraps are remanufactured to be turned into "new" garments is beneficial as the beginning processes of making cotton fabric has already been completed. Thus, it uses less water and energy and keeps the old t-shirts among other cotton garments out of the landfills. This method of recycling cotton keeps the already circulating cotton in circulation and the need for new fibers is lessened.


WOOL


Recycled wool is similar to recycled cotton, it is wool reproduced from post industry and consumer waste. This is usually blended with fleece. Fleece is not the most sustainable fabric, as it is made from a type of polyester known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which means it is a synthetic fiber that is not biodegradable. All synthetic fibers are not biodegradable. Even though the PET might be made from plastic water bottles, each time you wash a polyester garment it releases microplastics, little plastic pieces, into the water. However, recycled wool is a good option because it uses the wool that is already in circulation.

I'll leave it to you to decide whether virgin wool (new wool) or recycled wool is more sustainable, as each has their own down side.


ECONYL


Econyl is made from waste materials such as industrial plastics and fishing nets. The manufacturer who makes Econyl has a closed loop process, which means the chemicals used to produce this fabric is recycled within the plant. Aquafil, the manufacturer is based in Italy and was founded in 1965, where it still has its headquarters today. This particular fabric is typically used for bags, shoes, and carpets thus washing is rare if ever, which means little to no microplastics in the water.


BAMBOO


Bamboo is a biodegradable fabric as it is made from natural fibers. All natural fibers are biodegradable and this is a wonderfully natural thing God had created from the beginning. It is sustainable in the growing phase. However, it is not so during the manufacturing phase. Bamboo requires (much like rayon) a chemical and water intensive process to turn it into a wearable fabric. Although it is said that bamboo linen has a more sustainable process. However, it is not readily available in the ready to wear industry. If you are looking for a Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) certification for bamboo products, it is most likely not there (at the time I am writing this) as the process of manufacturing bamboo is not sustainable according to GOTS standards.

Now that you have a better understanding of where recycled fibers are coming from, you will notice as you read more garment content tags that recycled fibers in garments are becoming more readily available. You will also notice where the garments are made. Making the garments in foreign countries, usually poor or rural areas is the least expensive route for the manufacturers and brand names, to keep the costs down and you coming back for more, and often. Thus, continuing the fast fashion cycle. Some of the most common places listed on the garments are Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Indonesia and the Philippines. There are more of course, but these are the most common places.


Now back to the other bits of the fast fashion industry. Did you know 20% of waste comes from the textile and apparel manufacturers? We can help minimize the waste impact the manufactures create by minimizing the amount of clothes we purchase. We can choose to shop with intention and integrity. We can purchase what we need at the moment and decide, before we purchase it, if we are going to care for it long term to make it last as long as possible. We can read the garment content tag to see what it is made from to help us determine its life expectancy. A garment made of natural fibers will naturally live longer than one made of synthetic fibers.


Ways You Can Reduce the Impact


Other ways we can reduce the impact the fashion industry has on the world is through upcycling. It is something you as the end user can do with clothes you no longer want. Upcycling is where you take a garment you are finished using and turn it into something new, such as a bag, a blanket, pillow, or altering a dress into a skirt or top. You have probably seen lots of upcycling on Pinterest. But have you done any yourself? Or do you simply toss the worn or stained tee into the trash?

Another method to sustainable fashion is reusing your clothes. That is sending the clothes you no longer want on to a new home, giving them to a second hand store or offering them to a friend you know who has been really wanting to wear them. But do remember to be a great friend and ask if she is truly interested in the clothes you have to offer her. Do not just assume she wants them and hand them off to her, for you do not want to be seen as the one who just “dumps” all your problems onto her.


As nice as it would be that everything we ever wear to be biodegradable it is not. However, there are a number of organic textiles that are biodegradable and when you are finished with that garment if recycling, upcycling, or reusing is not an option, you can plant your loved garment right in the ground and the earth will take care of the rest. God truly created a beautiful recycling system right here on earth, we only need to see it and live it out.


Want to learn about the most sustainable fabrics and their benefits? Get it here.

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