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Recycling Single-Use Plastics into Very Fabulous Swag

rPET Dopp Kit for KINSHIP. Dopp Kit image © KINSHIP 

The Problem

Plastics get such a bad rap. They release microfibers into our waterways and when thrown away take up tons (literally, tons) of space.

We have seen that for ourselves. The WORK+SHELTER production center is located close to a landfill in New Delhi, one that is constantly burning. There are two reasons for that:

  1. The trash is purposefully incinerated, in part, because the city lacks infrastructure to manage the waste.
  2. It spontaneously combusts.

When the trash burns, smoke, and smog are created, polluting the air for all of the city’s inhabitants. 

With such negative externalities, why even use plastics at all? One reason is that they have immense utility. They are lightweight, affordable, and strong.

Quilted rPET Zip Pouch

Our Solution 

What can we, as folks in the promo/swag/merch/sewn goods world, do about this massive environmental issue?

Our answer: buy fabric made out of recycled plastics. By doing that we get the utility of poly fabrics and also keep waste out of the landfill.

The technical term is recycled polyethylene terephthalate, RPET for shorthand.

When we buy bags or shirts made out of RPET fabric, we provide a monetary incentive to recycle those plastics, instead of burn them. What’s more, individuals in parts of India can actually sell their waste to recyclers. In economic terms, we create “demand” for this type of fabric, resulting in building a supply chain of collectors, recyclers, and weavers who then make their living from doing something that actively improves the environment.

              Digitally printed woven RPET

Production Options

RPET is available in both knitted (think tees) and woven (think totes) fabrics.

For knits, RPET can be combined with organic cotton (GOTS certified), resulting in material that works well for athleisure apparel.  One of our clients, a yoga clothing brand decided on this mix because the RPET dries fast and is super durable, while the cotton makes the garment more comfortable, soft, and breathable. 

In woven form, RPET is strong, partially water resistant, and lightweight. Less weight results in an easier-to-carry and cheaper-to-ship than a cotton equivalent, making it a great option for make-up bags or foldable totes.

Knit rPET yoga pants for SAMVEGA. Image © SAMVEGA

Design Trade-Offs

As you may have heard, RPET is composed of microfibers that can shed into the water supply. This has given RPET somewhat of a bad rap in the environmental community. 

Despite the microfiber issue, using RPET is a huge upgrade from using virgin polyester, as its creation is taking post-consumer materials out of landfills, incinerators, and the oceans.

Designers should especially consider using RPET in items that can be wiped down and not machine-washed. Examples of products that fit these criteria:

  • Tote bags
  • Packing cubes
  • Packaging for other items
  • Wall hangings (pictured below)

If you’d like to consider giving plastics a second life and use RPET for your production, let us know and we can send you complimentary samples of various compositions and weights. We’re always reachable at [email protected].rPET Great Lakes Map Quilt