At WORK+SHELTER, one of our goals is to reduce our use of virgin materials in production. 

Luckily, there’s a way to give single-use plastic items a second life. RPET stands for recycled polyethylene terephthalate. RPET is comprised of single-use plastics that have been recycled, broken down, and then reformed into textiles that are then made into brand-new products.

 

Creating products out of RPET uses 50% less energy than creating products out of virgin polyester.* Further, using RPET creates an incentive for the market to keep plastics out of the landfill, or worse, the incinerator. In India, where we source our RPET, burning of trash is a major health and environmental issue. WORK+SHELTER is located close to a landfill in Delhi that is constantly burning. The trash is incinerated, in part, because plastic is such a durable material that it can take over 700 years to decompose.* In a city of over 20 million inhabitants, that’s a lot of trash, taking up a lot of space. So much of it ends up engulfed in flames, disseminating toxic fumes into the air. 

When we buy fabrics made out of recycled materials, 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. Thus, the waste ends up in products like bags that have real utility, instead of as smoke that pollutes the air. 

RPET is a versatile material for both knits and wovens.

For knits, RPET can be combined with organic cotton (GOTS certified), resulting in material that works well for athleisure apparel.  Our clients at Samvega, a sustainable clothing brand focusing on eco-friendly yoga wear, decided on this mix because the polyester dries fast and is super durable, which is great for athletic wear, while the cotton makes the garment more comfortable, soft, and breathable. 

 

In woven form, RPET is smooth to the touch, lightweight, and very strong. Due to its weight, it’s lighter to carry–and cheaper to ship–than a cotton equivalent. That’s why we used it for our new Weekender bag, custom printed below for our distributor friends Peace by Piece.

 

“BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MICROFIBERS?!” 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, or, if their product does need to be machine-washed, work to ensure that their end users are educated about how to reduce microfiber waste.

A few recommendations:

  • Wash in cool water, as hot water makes it easier for the microfibers to sneak out of products

  • Educate end users about tools like the Cora Ball and GUPPYFRIEND to decrease the amount of microfibers that end up in our waterways

  • Encourage air drying your RPET clothes, rather than using a tumble dry

If you’d like to consider using this material for your production, let us know and we can help talk through whether it makes sense for your design. We’re always reachable at [email protected]

-Theresa VanderMeer

Founder + CEO