Sportswear using Recycled Plastic

Plastic is a massive problem the scale of which is hard to comprehend. It is and will continue to have a negative impact on the environment for decades to come and is only just being recognised as a serious problem. As a result some governments and organisations are starting to introduce changes, though many argue they’re not nearly doing enough to face this off.

At Apexgray it is our goal to operate in an environmentally friendly way. You can read our organisational philosophy in the About Us page.  The manufacture of fabric can have a massively negative impact on the environment. The biggest decision for a clothing business in terms of environmental impact is their choice of fabric and this article from The Independent provides some of the issues created from making textiles.

As this article mentions recycled fabric is currently the best option for consumer choice when it comes to having the least negative impact on the environment; Patagonia were one of the first to specify use of these in their range.

The Apexgray Stellar and Terrain range and the Optifit Comp bra top all use fabric made from recycled plastic. The technical term for the fabric we specify is recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate or rPET for short. I thought it might be worth having a brief look at this product, how it is made and what affect it has to the environment when using it.

If you grab a container or bottle, you may notice a #1 code on the bottom of it. That is to say it is made out of PET. It is very common as a packaging material, including things like peanut butter, beverages, produce, bakery goods, salad, frozen foods, cosmetics, dressings, and household cleaners. PET itself is incredibly popular because it is transparent, thermo-stable and incredibly durable. Additionally, it is lightweight, affordable, shatter resistant, resealable and, most important of all, recyclable. This is where rPET comes in.

rPET is created by recycling plastics that were previously used as packaging materials. These include plastic bottles, for instance. Once collected, it is sorted and cleaned, after which it is transformed into rPET, which can then be used for new packaging. This is federally approved and effectively means that you can give each bottle a new lease of life.

By recycling PET bottles and turning them into rPET, you conserve a great amount of landfill space. In fact:

4,800 16oz bottles equals one cubic yard.

4,050 20oz bottles equals one cubic yard.

3,240 1 litre bottles equals one cubic yard.

2,430 2 litre bottles equals one cubic yard.

1,350 3 litre bottles equals one cubic yard.

One ton of PET equals 7.4 cubic yards.

Perhaps most interesting is the fact that 100% of all PET can actually be made from rPET. It is so versatile, as well, that it can be used for most products. It is, in fact, so safe, that it can be recycled over and over again, reusing each element to create new ones each time.

How rPET Is Collected, Sorted and Processed

Usually, PET is collected through programs such as curbside recycling. This involves both what is known as a single-stream approach and a dual-stream approach. However, because there is such a shortage of PET for recycling, other recycling programs are being set up throughout different communities and countries. For instance, there are recycling banks and recycling drives, and various community education programs exist in order to further promote recycling.

At a recycling centre or material recovery centre, PET is sorted from the various other recyclable materials. It is then baled, after which it is sent to specific PET recycling facilities. It is very important that PET is stored and handled properly so that it is not contaminated.

Once the bales of PET arrive at a recycling facility, they are first staged. Then, they are placed onto a conveyor, which takes them through a bale braker. This brakes the bales, and the bottles then become singulated. It is vital that all bottles are properly washed and that their labels are removed. Steam is used, as well as various chemicals. To do this, the bottles are placed into a hot air trommel, which is known as the ‘pre-wash stage’. If any PVC bottles have accidentally made their way into the bale, they will turn slightly brown during this process. This then enables them to be removed. Finally, they will go through a sorting belt, where any unwanted materials are removed, leaving just the PET in place.

After sorting, the material is then ground, which creates what is known as ‘flakes’. These flakes have to be completely pure in order to make sure they can be turned into rPET. If they are contaminated, functionality, strength and, ultimately, value will be significantly reduced. This is why various separation techniques are usually used along the way, including air classification and washing.

Once all the steps have been completed and the facility is sure that no contaminants remain, the material is rinsed one more time. After it is dried, it becomes a new manufacturing material by being reintroduced.

As mentioned rPET is the sole fabric used in the Stellar and Terrain range and is also used for the base structure in the Optifit Comp Bra Top. Extra processes have been incorporated into the production to form the Eco-lite fabric we use. It has a ‘silky’ feel to it and therefore great user comfort. The Eco-lite has also been independently assessed to give it a Product Class 1 under STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX®, which means it can in theory be used for new born babies to wear, good to know!!

It is our aim to source environmentally-friendly fabrics for our entire range, while providing the user with a great experience too. We are constantly working with our suppliers to source eco-friendly products. For instance we are currently looking to introduce special recycled polyester in a new range of sports tops, plus we’re really excited about the possibilities of bringing out a new range of leggings made from ECONYL®. This is regenerated polyamide (Nylon to you and me) that uses such things as discarded fishing nets and carpet fluff. The results when put together by the Italian manufacturer is a high performing fabric with incredible properties, we can’t wait to see the first prototypes arriving soon!

Our products will never be the cheapest but we hope they can be trusted for quality, performance and ethicacy by our customers.

Apexgray are an environmentally conscious sportswear brand.

Apexgray are a progressive sportswear brand headquartered in Derby, UK. Using environmentally sensitive materials including Lyocell, recycled plastics and bamboo, our pieces are made in carefully selected sewing studios that comply with international workplace standards.


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Apexgray are a progressive sportswear brand headquartered in Derby, UK. Using environmentally sensitive materials including Lyocell, recycled plastics and bamboo, our pieces are made in carefully selected sewing studios that comply with international workplace standards.