When Nike feted World Cup uniforms made from recycled polyester in 2010, the idea of melting down cast-off plastic bottles and spinning them into textiles was still a novel concept. Today, just about every apparel brand, from American Eagle to Zara, brandishes the material as evidence it is “going green.”
The appeal is clear: Recycled polyester, also known as recycled polyethylene terephthalate or rPET for short, has a smaller carbon footprint than its virgin counterpart. Reclaiming plastic waste also keeps it from becoming trash—or fodder for marine animals such as turtles and whales.
Although companies frequently market shoes and clothing made with rPET as a guilt-free way to consume fashion, not everyone is convinced of its virtues.