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Fabric Faceoff: Recycled PET vs. Bamboo

February 15, 2019
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Welcome back to Green Story’s #FabricFaceoff, where the search for the best green fabric continues.

To find the winner, we’re putting 8 of the top green fabrics to the test. Tencel, linen, rPET, bamboo, cork, recycled wool, organic cotton, and hemp are going head to head in 5 different categories. They will compete on not only environmental issues, but also on manufacturer and consumer needs, and unique fabric qualities. Scroll down to the end of this blog for a full outline of the categories.

In round 1, Tencel took on linen. They were neck and neck but Tencel passed the tipping point to the next round. Who will win round 2? 


Introducing the competitors for round 2: recycled PET and bamboo

Green Story Fabric Faceoff round 2: Recycled PET vs. Bamboo

Recycled polyester (recycled PET or rPET) is plastics’ second —or 10th life. This fabric is part of the synthetic family, but the best one at that. Many vouch for rPET’s ability to clean up our plastic pollution since it’s made entirely from PET bottles. Recycled plastics get sorted, cleaned, melted, and spun right into yarn. This means that crude oil and natural gas extraction for new plastics is completely avoided.

Bamboo is a rayon fabric and a delight. It’s natural-based and biodegradable, while also strong, durable, and great for moisture absorption. Technically a grass, this plant is a quick grower without needing replanting or chemical fertilisers. It is mostly made with the viscose method. This means chemicals are still used to turn that hardy bamboo into ready-to-use fibers. But bamboo makes all our green lists with its super-soft touch, quick growth and high yield.

Here’s how they score.

1. CO2 Emissions:

When it comes to emissions, rPET is revolutionary against other synthetics. It completely skips the first step of producing plastic resin —that means a lot of emissions saved. But turning plastic granulate to yarn and fabric is no easy and emission-free process. Bamboo wins this category because even though its production isn’t perfect, it beats synthetics and even rPET.

Our score: rPET – 3 | Bamboo – 4
Winner: Bamboo


2. Water Consumption:

Both fabrics come in strong for this category. Bamboo plants need much less water than most crops, while rPET demands little water during production. Although very different, these two come to a draw in this category. Being a plant, bamboo still needs a considerable amount of water to grow, while on the other hand rPET dyeing is quite water-heavy.

Our score: rPET – 4 | Bamboo – 4
Winner: Tie


3. Cost:

Normally we can find polyester cheaper than its cellulose alternatives, but rPET’s extra recycling steps bring up the price. Seems to be a small price (pun intended) to pay for taking plastics out of our trash though. That puts bamboo and rPET in a similar range and together tie this category.

Our score: rPET – 4 | Bamboo – 4
Winner: Tie


4. Availability:

The good part about having created so much plastic, is that PET is now everywhere. We’re able to find it in abundance, along with its recycling and production plants. Not to mention that this process is now very well developed. Bamboo scores low on this category since the plant is only grown in large quantities in China and Taiwan, making it impossible for local production.

Our score: rPET – 5 | Bamboo – 3.5
Winner: Tie


5. Other:

rPET holds on to its claim to fame; taking plastics out of landfills (5 PET bottles = 1 t-shirt). Not only is it made out of other plastic, but it can be reused again and again with almost no quality interference. We love it since its wrinkle-resistant, quick drying, and colour lasts longer than other fabrics. But bamboo takes the cake in this category with the strong argument that simply, it’s just not plastic. That means no microplastics shedding at each wash, and it’s biodegradable.

Our score: rPET – 2.5 | Bamboo – 5
Winner: Bamboo

1st round winner:


Although rPET is a great innovation and should no doubtfully be used when possible, this round tilted strongly towards Bamboo due to the microplastics wildcard. Both fabrics brought good qualities to the table and even tied on Cost and Water. But bamboo brings us off our plastic addition and so moves on to the semi finals! It will take on Tencel for a spot in the finals and a chance at being champion.

Final score: rPET – 18.5 | Bamboo – 20.5

Next up we have cork vs recycled wool in our Round 3. Which do you think should advance to the semis?

The rules of the competition

We broke it down into 5 categories, a mix of environmental issues, consumer and manufacturer needs and unique fabric qualities. Each category is scored on a 5 point scale with 5 being best.

  1. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions: Every fabric gives off CO2 from its production, but the best green materials strive to bring this to a minimum —some even to be CO2 negative (due to carbon sequestration).
  2. Water consumption: Fabrics can use up to 3,000 liters per 1 kg of material (!), so the less water needed, the higher green materials will score.
  3. Cost: Being green and buying green is the main goal. But we must also be realistic. You can’t spend all your budget on the material, and your customers will not spend their life savings on a t-shirt. So finding the right balance between being sustainable and affordable will make sure green materials are here to stay.
  4. Availability: Green materials are wonderful, but they must also be accessible. The possibility of local production, easy access to facilities offering these materials (and no long waiting lists), and brands offering these materials needs to be addressed.
  5. Other: Each material is unique and has different sustainable qualities. This category allows each material to bring its top additional assets to the table, to make for a fairer comparison.