When you choose something made with recycled content, you’re diverting waste out of the landfill and keeping it out of oceans. But the benefits don’t stop there. Recycling waste – like single-use plastic bottles, fishing nets or even carpets – means you don’t need to create as many new raw materials, which also saves energy and water.
Your options for recycled fibres just keep growing as technology improves. Along with synthetics like recycled polyester and nylon, there are recycled natural fibres like cotton, down and wool. MEC Label’s current focus is to use more recycled synthetic fibres, since this is where we see the biggest impacts and challenges. We use recycled fibres in everything from fleece jackets and base layers to sleeping bags and running shorts.
Why focus on recycled synthetics?
Global plastic use has been growing at 4–5% per year; this rate is expected to continue (and even accelerate) over the next decade. Already, over 320 million tonnes of plastic is manufactured globally each year, and 14.5% of that is just for textiles (1). That works out to over 40kg of plastic per person, per year.
We need to find solutions to the plastic problem. Without a shift to more recycled content, the impact of waste and microfibres on our lands and waterways will continue to pile up. Producing more and more plastics without any way to manage them after they’ve been used (sometimes just once) isn’t sustainable.
Due to limited demand for recycled materials, the infrastructure to support recycling isn’t what we need it to be. Canada, for example, only recycled 9% of its plastics in 2016 (2). By turning recycled plastic bits into outdoor gear and clothing, MEC hopes to show how useful recycled waste can be and expand the market for these materials along the way.
How do you turn plastic into polyester or nylon fibres?
Recycled polyester yarns provide new life for industrial polyester waste and recycled plastic bottles. Most recycled polyester fibres come from mechanical recycling, which means grinding up bottles into flakes, washing them, then melting it back into new polyester chip. Another option is chemical recycling, where the plastic is turned back into its raw chemical ingredients.
Mechanical recycling is an easier, less energy-intensive process, but it has limitations: the plastic going in can only be clear, since coloured bottles will end up discolouring the final product. An advantage of chemical recycling is that it has the potential to transform more types of materials – plastic bottles, fabric scraps, even old uniforms – into material that’s like new. It creates recycled fibres that are just as strong as regular, non-recycled polyester. MEC Label uses both chemical and mechanical recycled polyester depending on the fabric features we need, such as the strength or colour.
Recycled nylon yarns are also created through mechanical or chemical processes. Most recycled nylon still uses manufacturing waste (pre-consumer), though the use of post-consumer waste (like fishing nets and carpets) is growing. While pre-consumer waste doesn’t have the same “second life” benefits that post-consumer waste does, it does help reduce waste overall.
MEC Label started using recycled polyester way back in 1994 for fleece, and we’re happy to see many more options available in our supply chain these days. Today, the quality of recycled polyester and nylon is fantastic (decades ago, color matching, dyeability, strength and consistency from batch to batch were issues the supply chain had to work through). We also have a long-term focus to find more post-consumer waste options for recycled nylon.
We’ll keep using recycled content because there’s no compromise with performance, and it’s the right thing to do. We also want to promote a positive feedback loop – by using recycled content, we help create a demand for recycled content, which leads to better recycling infrastructure, and can ultimately make it easier and more cost-effective for other brands to use recycled content too.
We know that recycling is only one part of the solution to the problem of waste. The most important consideration? Reducing waste in the first place. Gear rentals reduce the need for new gear, gear repairs extend the life of existing items, and the products made by MEC Label are designed to last.