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What Is RPET? All You Need To Know About Our Exciting New Fabric!


Row of multicoloured PET plastic bottles

First up: our commitment to sustainable fabrics

ColieCo followers will be well aware of our longstanding commitment to sourcing fabrics for our collections with outstanding environmental credentials.

And this year we're making a new commitment to strengthen our existing approach.

Now and forever, every single fabric used to create every single ColieCo product will meet one of the following criteria:

  • the fabric is made from an inherently sustainable and sustainably processed natural fibre
  • the fabric is made primarily from recycled materials
  • the fabric is reclaimed from industry deadstock, line-ends or off-cuts otherwise destined for landfill.

In a coming blog post, we'll be digging a little deeper into this important commitment and looking at each of the categories above in more detail, but in this post we want to focus on one fabric in particular: our new printed RPET recycled polyester.

(In the meantime, you can check out the environmental qualifications of each of our fabrics here.)

So just what is RPET?

RPET - short for recycled polyethylene terephthalate for the closet materials science geeks out there - is a term used to describe any material recycled from the virgin PET plastic commonly used in food and beverage packaging, and particularly plastic drinks bottles.

Graphical representation of a PET polymer chain

So to understand exactly what RPET is, we really need to start with PET.

PET plastic has become ubiquitously popular as a packaging material since its invention in the mid-20th century thanks to its useful properties - it's lightweight, flexible, durable, shatterproof, and cheap to produce. And now it is used to manufacture, amongst other things, over 500 billion drinks bottles every year. This number continues to grow.

The problems with PET

In some ways, PET is a miracle material. But there are a *lot* of downsides associated with its proliferation.

First up, there's the environmental cost of its manufacture. The raw materials for PET are derived from crude oil and natural gas, which following extraction, are then processed into resins suitable for plastic production.

Ultimately, the manufacture of one kilogram of PET can produce as much as three kilograms of carbon dioxide. This equates to one 500ml plastic bottle of water carrying its own carbon footprint of 83g of CO2.

On top of this carbon footprint, the production of PET also generates way more toxic emissions (including nickel, ethylbenzene, ethylene oxide, and benzene) than manufacturing other alternative materials like glass. According to Ecology Center, producing a 500ml PET bottle generates more than 100 times the toxic emissions of producing the same sized bottle from glass.


Oil refinery at night


Then we get to the problem of what to do with the bottle after its use has been fulfilled.

PET doesn't biodegrade very easily, meaning that once each bottle has been used and discarded, if left to its own devices, it's going to stick around in pretty stubborn fashion for a looooooong time.

The process of biodegradation is reliant on bacteria which consume and break down waste. But as PET is made from chemicals that bacteria cannot consume, it is thought that it could take upwards of 450 years for PET bottles to decompose in landfill conditions.

And landfill sites filling up with PET isn't the worst of it. Failure to dispose of plastic bottles carefully and conscientiously has resulted in them clogging waterways, and filling oceans and lakes around the world.

According to Ocean Conservatory, every year, 8 million metric tons of plastics enter our ocean to add to the existing estimated 150 million metric tons that currently circulate in our marine environments. 

Although we've established that PET doesn't biodegrade easily, once exposed to the elements of nature (and particularly sunlight), PET is subject to a fragmentation process which can quickly lead to the creation of microplastics.

We've written about the various and grave issues with microplastics elsewhere in our blog post about ColieCo's involvement in a local beach clean initiative, so we won't repeat ourselves here, but suffice to say that they're very bad news indeed for marine life and the marine environment, as well as showing mounting evidence of threats to human health.


Beach covered in plastic waste 

The good news - what we can do together to combat PET pollution

There are a number of ways we can work to protect the environment from plastic bottle and packaging pollution.

To start with, we can collectively choose to consume less, selecting alternatives to plastic-packaged food and drinks. We can also reuse and refill bottles rather than buying new ones each time we get a thirst on. These have to be our starting points.

We can also look to limit the amount of PET being produced globally by lobbying our local political representatives to propose and support legislation regulating plastic production.

And whilst we're working to reduce consumption, we can recommit to disposing of the PET plastic we do consume more conscientiously.

One mitigating benefit of PET is that it is very readily recyclable. PET can be recovered and recycled repeatedly through a process of washing and remelting for use in new PET products, or by breaking it down chemically into its raw materials, for purification and conversion into new PET.

And this new recycled material is our titular RPET. (Yeah, we got there in the end!)

So what are the benefits of RPET? 

The most obvious benefit is in helping keep existing PET bottles out of landfill and waterways, and limiting the need to produce new virgin materials, reducing our reliance on petroleum and helping keep oil in the ground where it belongs. 

We already mentioned how easily PET can be recycled. The even better news is that the recycling process also requires much less energy to produce RPET than the equivalent process of creating virgin PET.


Man recycling plastic and glass bottles


For example, the production of our own RPET polyester results in around 75% lower CO2 emissions when compared with the production of virgin polyester

It also requires around 90% less water to produce than virgin polyester. (And what amounts to a negligible quantity when compared with water hyper-intensive natural fibres like cotton.) 

Next there's the growing market for the product. 

As more customers demand eco-friendly products made from recycled rather than virgin materials, more companies - including but not limited to fashion brands - will transition to using RPET in their products, and in doing so create a stronger market for recycled plastics. This incentivises others to collect PET for recycling as the value of the waste material rises.

RPET isn't - and will never be - an all-conquering solution to the problem of an uncontrolled PET boom.

But it can be an incredibly useful tool, firstly in helping to deal with the mountains of PET we've already produced, and secondly in helping to reduce the amount we produce in the future.

All about our RPET fabric 

There's even more to love about our new RPET fabric beyond its outstanding environmental credentials.

The material is lightweight, super smooth and strong, carrying the same attributes as virgin polyester. It is also bobble-resistant and has a generous, contour-hugging, four-way stretch. In short, it's a perfect fabric for lingerie and underwear.


Herbarium print RPET recycled fabric by ColieCo Lingerie


The fabric is made in Europe from 85% RPET recycled polyester, 100% of which comes from recycled PET plastic drink bottles.

Once it arrives in Portugal, the fabric is sustainably sublimation printed for ColieCo by a small, independent business, before finally making its way to the ColieCo Studio.

The fabric carries both OEKO-TEX STANDARD 100 certification, meaning that it is guaranteed free from harmful substances, and Global Recycled Standard certification.

We've launched our new RPET recycled collection in four customer-favourite mix-and-match bra and panties designs, each available in two exclusive prints and standard sizes XS through 2XL.

As always, if you need custom sizing, just get in touch!


POPPY lingerie set in Herbarium print RPET recycled fabric by ColieCo 

Whaddya reckon?

As always, we're super excited to hear your thoughts on our new fabric and latest sustainable lingerie collection - get in touch with us by email or via social media and tell us what you think!

We hope you love our latest additions, and thanks as always for reading :-)

Nicole x

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