As brands look to meet growing demands and concerns of the consumer for more recycled material usage, the fashion industry has continued its consideration and the use of recycled polyester material (rPET). Turning away from virgin plastic products is essential for a sustainable future, with brands — both decades-old and start-ups — delivering lower impact products by implementing rPET into their lines.
It is, however, extremely important to make sure brand manufacturing partners use authentic rPET which meets the most specific standards. rPET testing is highly encouraged in all industries, to verify each product contains the amount of rPET that is claimed, increasing the quality of recycled materials in the market. Qualitative and quantitative testing helps ensure transparency and authenticity throughout the manufacturing process, while also building a level of trust with consumers who have become extremely conscious of the impact of their buying habits.
Current technology behind rPET chemical testing relies on detecting a specific substance: isophthalic acid (IPA), which is used in the making of plastic drink bottles — the primary source of raw material for recycled polyester. IPA is added during bottle manufacturing process to give them the desired shape and transparency. When these bottles are recycled, a small percentage of IPA is lost, but the remaining amount can serve as a “marker” to confirm whether plastic bottles were used to manufacture the given batch of rPET, and to assess approximate content of recycled polyester in the fiber.
While not without limitations, IPA-detection-based chemical testing is one of the best approaches to obtain laboratory evidence for backing your rPET claims, and provides a high degree of confidence when backed with traceability measures at other stages of the supply chain.
Utilizing reports from rPET testing to substantiate the use of recycled products in their products, brands can level-up, delivering on a commitment to commitment to reducing waste. This can be particularly impactful on younger-generation consumers, who are increasingly concerned about the environment, and more likely to support sustainable brands. rPET testing is an important step in substantiation of green claims, supporting a lower impact fashion industry.
To most effectively understand the need for testing rPET in global manufacturing, consider the following factors regarding the practice:
Pricing — One of the most notable challenges with the use of rPET is its relatively higher cost compared to virgin polyester — some 40 to 50 percent. Yes, it may deter some manufacturers, but the process is worth so much more to the efforts of a sustainable future. With the utilization of rPET, manufacturers are actively contributing to the reduction of plastic waste and supporting a circular economy. Testing for rPET content allows brands to ensure they get what they pay for, guaranteeing the quality and authenticity of the recycled material.
Demand is greater than supply — While demand for recycled material continues to rise, supply has not been able to keep up, only heightening the concern about authentic rPET. Testing, accompanied by product traceability, ensures manufacturers are receiving and properly administering the material through each step in the manufacturing process, from sourcing and purchasing, to bulk delivery of the recycled material. Mitigate the risk of supply chain issues and potentially, unknowingly, using virgin polyester.
Avoid greenwashing — Greenwashing, or misleading “green” claims, is a simple way to spin minimal efforts to seem more eco-friendly. rPET testing allows brands to demonstrate their efforts with transparency and actual, tangible data. Manufacturers must demonstrate transparency and substantiation regarding their use of rPET. Investing the proper time and finances into rPET ensures a genuine approach to providing a product that’s produced authentically.
Documentary traceability is not enough — Yes, documentation may provide valuable insights into the origin and processing of rPET, but it does not provide real-time confirmation of material authenticity. Testing rPET at critical steps ensures the material used meets your desired quality standards — brands can enhance their control over the supply chain, minimizing the risk of counterfeit or mislabeled rPET.
Testing strengthens substantiation, provides essential data to monitor progress in meeting recycling targets, builds consumer trust and makes the process as cost effective as possible. It is important to test rPET at each critical step in the manufacturing process to ensure its quality, authenticity, and adherence to sustainability goals.
Editor’s Note: Anouschka Jansen is director of Sustainability Solutions at QIMA, a Hong Kong-based company offering quality inspections, supplier audits, certification, and lab testing using a digital platform that brings accuracy, visibility and intelligence for quality and compliance data.
August 17, 2023