The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion

The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion

How Your Yoga Clothes Could Help Boost America’s Recycling Rates


This post is generously sponsored by REPREVE®. As always, EcoCult only works with companies we believe are doing good things. Support Ecocult’s mission of education and activism by supporting them!

I was talking with an eco-friendly, vegan blogger last week, who was trying to get plastic out of her life. “Water bottles are easy. I can just carry around a reusable one. But all my favorite health drinks are in plastic!”

I totally feel her pain. When my husband and I came home from the grocery store yesterday, we had plastic containers of watermelon water, white vinegar, kefir yogurt, and my favorite brand of honey-almond butter. (Usually, we do bulk nut butters, but it was on sale!)

And plastic truly does have its benefits. It’s lighter, and doesn’t break, making it the container of choice for any situation where broken glass might occur and be dangerous, like beach parties, dive bars, or clubs. Only certain cities can recycle the laminated alternative, paper-and-plastic cartons and cups. And in countries where the water system isn’t clean enough for drinking, plastic water bottles litter the beach. Even with a sustained campaign by advocates to point out how terrible plastic water bottles are for the environment (they take at least 500 years to biodegrade, and have so thoroughly infested our oceans that you can find plastic bits in your sea salt), plastic water bottle consumption has risen almost unabated, save for a brief dip in the recession, and continues to set consumption records every year. And right now, only around 32% of the plastic bottles used in the United States are recycled, which is far below the recycling rates of other developed countries.

There’s another issue for conscious consumers that, at first, seems unrelated: Polyester. A petroleum product that is essentially a plastic thread, polyester production has skyrocketed as it has been refined and improved to fulfill almost any function we ask of it – it can be silky, stretchy, velvety, or fluffy. It can be anything, really. But, polyester is a carbon-intensive product to make new.

Still, to exclude polyester from your wardrobe would be just a big of a challenge as ceasing to consume any plastic bottles. Natural fibers are more expensive, to start. Polyester helps you achieve the same performance in terms of sweat wicking, water resistance, and even just fit, with lighter-weight and more affordable fabric. Most crucially, polyester helps you achieve stretch, which is necessary for modern athletic and yoga clothing, stockings, underwear, swimwear, and skinny jeans, amongst many other product categories. You can achieve stretch through knitting techniques, but that only goes so far, performance wise. I have a crochet bikini that looks super cute dry. But I can’t get it wet because it stretches out and sags off my body. Adorable.

Solving two Dilemmas With One Fabric

So, you’ve reduced your plastic bottle consumption but can’t eliminate it. And you’ve reduced the polyester in your wardrobe, but haven’t eliminated it. The best thing I can advise you to do is 1. Recycle as much plastic as you can, and 2. Buy clothing made with recycled plastic bottles.

Repreve is an eco-friendly, high performance fiber made of recycled plastic water bottles. It is manufactured in the United States, in North Carolina, where environmental and worker protections are stringent. Since its introduction, Unifi (Repreve’s parent company) has recycled more than 5 billion plastic bottles into Repreve fiber that goes into products ranging from clothing and footwear, to even auto interiors.

Not only does this keep water bottles out of the landfill, it lowers the carbon footprint of your performance clothing and swimwear. And when you buy fabric made with recycled water bottles, you’re actually helping expand recycling. That’s because cities fund their recycling programs by selling the collected recyclables to private companies. The more demand there is for plastic bottles, the higher the price goes, and the more cities can afford to institute recycling programs that put a can in every building and on every corner, capturing more plastic bottles and preventing them from going to the landfill or in the water.

The Repreve process: plastic flake to chip to fiber

First, recycled bottles are collected, sorted, cleaned, and shipped to a Repreve facility where it’s chopped into flake, then turned into chip, the little pellets you see above. Finally, it’s melted and extruded into threads that make up the Repreve fiber.

Unifi also produces conventional polyester, but since introducing Repreve, a sustainability ethos has permeated the company. They operate their own trucking fleet to reduce emissions, and used oil from the fleet provides heat for the truck maintenance facility. They built a solar farm that generates approximately 10% of the Repreve Recycling Center energy needs, they’re landfill free at domestic locations, and through water usage monitoring they save enough water to supply 800 U.S. homes per year. They’re hoping that demand for recycled polyester continues to increase, so that their business becomes more and more sustainable through and through!

Repreve is in a lot of brands that you recognize, like Fossil, prAnaUnited by Blue, and Roxy. I got to test it out in a yoga outfit by Totemmi, a sustainable Northwest athletic brand that’s my new fave. I had a couple pairs of pants from another popular yoga company (I won’t say who, but you could guess). The prints were great, but their recycled polyester fabric is really, really thin, and the elasticity started failing after a year of use. I’ve had to discard one already! Totemmi‘s fabric is thicker, with just the right amount of stretch and suck (my word) that flatters and supports your body. Plus, it’s entirely made in the USA, from the recycled bottles that are collected, to the manufacture of the textile, the local artists who design the patterns, and the printing and sewing.

It’s rare to find apparel in which you can be so utterly confident both in looks and in ethics.

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