How is Recycled Cotton Made?

All that glitters is not gold and all that’s recycled is not sustainable.

Recycled cotton sounds like a good choice for the environment, but is it? Most people hear the word “recycled” and believe they are making an environmentally-conscience choice. However, when it comes to cotton, recycling may falter when it comes to sustainability.

Apparel companies have started using eco-friendly buzzwords the same way celebrities use Facetune. Just because it seems appealing doesn’t mean there’s any value there. In this blog, we’ll explore how recycled cotton gets made and more sustainable alternatives.

Defining recycled cotton

Cotton gets recycled by turning textiles back into fibers that get reused to create ‘new’ fabrics. This is not a new concept, but it has gained popularity in the apparel industry over the last decade due to consumer interest in eco-friendly options.

What does the cotton recycling process entail?

The process begins by sorting used fabric by color. Next, the textiles go through a machine that shreds the fabric into yarn and then further into raw fibers. After shredding, fibers are spun back into yarn to create recycled cotton.

Recycling cotton puts a lot of strain on the integrity of the fabric fibers. The shredding process is very harsh and the fibers often break and become entangled – kind of like a scratch post after your cat destroys it. This is a problem for anyone looking to create high-quality fabric.

Short cotton fibers create coarse cotton that is less durable than new material. Even though we love a #shortking, short cotton fibers are no bueño for soft cotton.

Downfalls of Recycled Cotton

Currently, fabric waste accounts for an estimated 5% of all landfill space, and the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing per year, according to U.S. EPA estimations. This issue is only getting worse thanks to the rise of fast fashion brands that create poor-quality garments. Consumers are purchasing more clothing and getting rid of them faster due to poor quality. #ThanksShein

This is why recycled cotton is generally as useful as the sketchy cryptocurrency tip your brother-in-law SWEARS is the next Bitcoin. Recycled cotton is more expensive due to the extra production resources. The material does not last as long and therefore ends up in landfills faster. Also, recycled cotton cannot be re-recycled because it must be blended with other materials.

Better Alternatives to Recycled Cotton

Quality, well-constructed garments that are less likely to end up in landfills are the goal. High-quality pieces are more likely to stay in your closet longer and end up in second-hand stores instead of the landfill after you’re sick of it yourself. Supima and GOTS certified organic cotton are excellent choices when looking for sustainable cotton options.

For more information on what to look for if you want a sustainable t-shirt, check out our blog, “The Three Things to Look for in Ethically Sourced Clothing” or “Our Favorite Eco-Friendly T-Shirt Brands”.