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RPET T-Shirts + Fabrics Explained

Apr 13, 2018

We have an entire page dedicated to eco-friendly shirts, but we dove a little deeper into RPET t-shirts and fabrics for all the über-eco-conscious out there.

RPET T-Shirts & Fabric: Technical Mumbo Jumbo

RPET stands for Recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate. Really, that just means it’s recycled plastic. Whether it comes from plastic bottles or strands of extruded polyester that break during the manufacturing process, many suppliers recycle this “waste” to create RPET fabrics. (Usually) Different manufacturers then sew those fabrics into RPET t-shirts.

How are RPET T-Shirts + Fabric Made?

The process of making RPET fabric is comprised of quite a few steps, but it’s not too complicated. We’re going to get into the nitty gritty a bit, but if videos are more your speed, check out these links. This video shows the recycling process and this video from a manufacturer shows how they turn those bottles into fabric.

RPET T-shirts - Bottle Photo

Photo Credit: Leisure Activist Group

The process works like so:

1. You recycle your plastic bottles.
2. Recycling plants collect, sort, & bale those bottles.
3. The same plant chops the bottles into small pieces, called “flake”.
4. The plant then cleans the flake and removes the labels.
5. The plant then turns the flake into more formed, smaller pieces called “chip”.
6. They then melt the chip down and extrude it into extremely thin filaments. They then bundle those filaments into a yarn, which they then buffet by air, entangling the filaments.
7. They stretch the yarn over heated rubber rollers to change its molecular structure from being like dental floss to something closer to wool. From there, they spool it together and prepare it to be assembled into fabric. Whether that is 100% RPET, a 50/50 blend with organic cotton, or yet other blends with other fabrics depends on what the manufacturer has in mind.

Why it’s Important

You might be thinking, What’s this got to do with me? Well, a lot, honestly. Manufacturers require crude oil to produce “virgin” polyester, sucking up more of our earth’s natural resources. In contrast, manufacturers only require plastic bottles, which are already in abundance, to produce RPET t-shirts and other garments. They can even start with plastic bottles, recycle those into RPET fabrics, and then recycle those fabrics back into more, new fabrics or more plastic bottles. Recycling plastic bottles seems like a no-brainer, right?

Unfortunately, out of the 50 billion+ plastic bottles used in the United States annually, we only recycle about 23%. That means 38 billion plastic bottles end up in landfills, or worse.

Depending on the manufacturer, it takes anywhere from 5 to 50 plastic bottles to create enough fabric to produce a garment. That’s a minimum of 760 million garments that could have been produced if those bottles were recycled. Regardless of your stance on the environment, the facts are there. Recycling comes down to you & me. It’s a very simple choice and it makes an enormous impact on the environment we very often take for granted.

RPET T-shirts - Bottles

Diatribe over. Let’s talk RPET in regards to this industry.

So, how do RPET t-shirts and fabrics come into play with the garment decoration world? We’ll tell you!

Many companies, including but not limited to Champion, Alternative Apparel, and Liberty Bags produce RPET t-shirts that contain up to 10% RPET fabrics, which is better than most garment manufacturers.

Even better than that, companies such as US Blanks and Royal Apparel have RPET t-shirts that are comprised of 50% RPET fabrics. Also, they often combine the use of RPET fabrics with organic or upcycled cotton, offering more RPET t-shirt options while remaining sustainable. In addition to that, US Blanks manufactures all of their garments in the United States and most of Royal Apparel’s line is manufactured in the states as well.

As far as RPET fabric manufacturers go, Unifi takes recycling one step further, by doing it in the states. Once recycled, they also manufacture their brands, such as Repreve, Sorbtek, A.M.Y., among others, in the United States. In particular, Repreve provides RPET and recycled nylon fabrics to a multitude of large retail companies such as Ford, Volcom, New Era, Haggar, Northface, and Polartec.

Join us on this journey and get a quote for RPET t-shirts today!