Manufacture, wear, wash, incinerate: This typical life cycle of garments, which pollutes the environment, is to be changed in the future – towards principles of circular economy with recycling at its core. Using an outdoor jacket made from PET bottles and recycled materials, Empa researchers have investigated whether the product actually delivers what the idea promises.
Experts from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, Empa, Dübendorf/Switzerland, studied the formation and release of microplastic fibers. Their results: Fibers are released primarily at the fabric's edges. Their formation and release, among other things, depends on the type of fiber, surface treatment and the type of cutting. Compared to other textiles, significantly fewer fibers are released from laser-cut textiles during washing.
The researchers' analyses show that the recycled products perform better – in 11 environmental risk categories, including global warming, toxicity to ecosystems and water scarcity. There are strikingly large advantages in air pollution, as fewer pollutants are released without incineration, as well as in water scarcity, especially for the green jacket after the first recycling "loop," for which PET bottles are no longer used. What is decisive is the number of recycling cycles to produce new jackets: The balance improves from jacket to jacket – provided the quality of the polyester remains high enough.