A new joint initiative is aiming to spur a shift in the market towards the uptake of recycled polyester (rPET) and the associated reduction in greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 2025.

The 2025 Recycled Polyester Challenge is a partnership between Textile Exchange and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change's Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, and encourages the apparel industry to commit to increasing its use of recycled polyester from 14% to 45% at 17.1m metric tonnes by 2025.   

Companies committing to the initiative will be required to annually report their polyester consumption to Textile Exchange's Corporate Fiber and Materials Benchmark (CFMB) survey, which will track progress across all participating brands towards the collective goal. 

"We encourage brands to commit to the most ambitious uptake target possible," the two parties say. "80-100% recycled polyester commitments from the brands in our community will be essential to reaching our 2025 45% recycled volume target and for building critical mass to reach an absolute 90% recycled volume share by 2030."

Polyester (PET) is the most widely used fibre in the apparel industry, accounting for around 52% of the total volume of fibers produced globally. The apparel industry accounts for around 32m tonnes of the 57m tonnes of polyester used each year, Textile Exchange says. Currently, only about 14% of this comes from recycled inputs – predominantly from post-consumer PET bottles, according to the Textile Exchange Preferred Fiber & Materials Market Report 2020.   

"Recycled polyester has a significantly lower carbon footprint than conventional. Each kg of mechanically recycled polyester represents a reduction in GHG emissions by more than 70% as compared to virgin polyester (Sustainable Apparel Coalition's Higg Material Sustainability Index – raw materials 'Higg MSI'). To stay within the 1.5-degree pathway as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we need to bring the share of mechanically recycled (or equivalent) fibre/filament within the polyester market from 14% to 90% by 2030," Textile Exchange says.

"By 2025 rPET needs to comprise at least 45% of fashion's polyester market – this is equivalent to roughly 17.4 million metric tonnes (assuming a 3% growth rate of the apparel industry). The 17.1 million metric tonnes of recycled are intended to replace virgin synthetic feedstocks rather than cannibalise other fibre categories or justify increased industry growth." 

It adds mechanically recycled polyester from plastic water bottles makes up the vast majority of recycled polyester today; however, chemical recycling and, more specifically, textile to textile recycling will be a necessary part of reaching the goal.

"We recognise that more data is needed on the GHG reductions associated with chemical recycling and that even with less significant reductions compared to mechanical recycling, it is a key part of the solution. We will continue to explore roadmap scenarios as impact data evolves and as the textile-to-textile recycling market matures."  

Textile Exchange will annually report results utilising 2019 volume data as a baseline and a view to accomplishing both Textile Exchange's and Fashion Charter's overall commitment to staying within the 1.5-degree pathway.   

Companies do not need to be a member of Textile Exchange or the Recycled Polyester Round Table to join the challenge.