Polyester is the most common textile fiber in the world.
Statistics and experience show it is non-biodegradable and takes years to decompose. Thus, spiking debates on the environmental impact of synthetic fiber. The choice that all stakeholders agree on to use recycled fiber fueled the recent boom in demand.
But in a bold move in 2018, the Chinese government put a national ban on the importation of plastic junk. China is the largest producer of polyester. So, this impacts the future production of recycled fiber and consumer markets. A large chunk of manufacturers will produce virgin polyester. Shifting the recycled fiber industry to other countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
This article explores how virgin polyester fiber compares to recycled polyester fiber. And why choosing between the two isn’t an obvious decision.
Let’s Contrast Their Production
The main distinction between virgin and recycled polyester fiber is the raw materials. Recycled Polyester staple fiber comes from post-consumer plastic bottles and containers. They melt the plastic waste and spin it to filament fiber. In other cases, companies use post-production waste from factories like garment waste.
True to its name, the virgin fiber is 100% new from processing the petrochemical feedstock. It is a result of combining PTA and MEG in a chemical process known as polymerization.
On The Properties
Virgin and recycled fibers have the same properties. Recycling PET bottle flakes alters the structure at a molecular level. That makes fiber coming out like the virgin one
The thickness of the individual threads of fiber is in units called a denier. Our fiber denier ranges from 0.9D, 1.2D, 3D, 7D, and 15D. Smaller diameters make fibers fine and vice versa.
Small denier counts like 0.9D and 1.2D represent microfiber as they tend to be flat. They will be soft, silky, and sheer. High denier counts from 3D, 7D, and 15D are hollow fiber since they have holes in them. These will be thick, sturdy, and durable.
Denier is what determines the fiber’s fineness. Some will appear thick and rough others seem fine and soft.
Solid and hollow fibers have staple lengths of 25mm, 32mm, 38mm, 51mm, 64mm, and 70mm.
Types of virgin and recycled staple fiber
Our company produces solid and hollow conjugated fiber of virgin and recycled quality. Solid is compact and hollow fiber has holes or air spaces in them.
We differentiate these types as;
- Recycled and virgin solid fiber with a thickness of either 0.9D or 1.2D
- Recycled Hollow conjugated fiber with a thickness of 3D, 7D or 15D
- Virgin Hollow conjugated fiber with a thickness of 3D, 7D, or 15D.
It is important to note that at first, companies were producing hollow fiber. With new technology, they have been able to make upgrades of this to hollow conjugated fiber. It is far superior in performance to hollow fiber.
Conjugation is a finishing technology that reinforces fibers. The result is a three dimensional, elastic and fluffy fiber. That is why most factories are now specializing in conjugated hollow fiber.
What These Types Imply
All these are technical terms indicating how one type of fiber differs from the other. What does it all mean for the buyer using them?
Hollow conjugated fiber is elastic and bouncy. This makes it the common filling for cushions, pillows, stuffed toys, sofas.
While, solid fiber creates spinning yarn and fabrics since it is flat.
Many customers show a preference for hollow conjugated fiber for the following reasons;
- It has the best elasticity than the other types.
- It has a higher resilience in that it retains its original shape longer when used in stuffing items.
- It has a bulky fluffy appearance yet light in weight because of the airy spaces in fiber.
- Last, being hollow increases insulation by trapping air inside the fiber. Its products will be warmer than other PSF products.
Recycled and virgin fibers serve as filling fiber and raw materials for manufacturing companies. Here are further details on their application.
Medical hygiene supplies factories use in the manufacture of diapers, sanitary towels, and wipes.
Raw staple fiber is stuffing for products such as pillows, cushions, toys.
Polyester fiber is best for wadding. It doesn’t tear with washing like natural fiber or flatten over time and is easy to hand stitch.
The yarn for making fabrics comes from spinning polyester staple fiber.
Pros and Cons of Virgin and Recycled Fiber
- Pressure on the planet’s natural resources.
Creating virgin polyester requires petroleum. Using recycled polyester lessens our dependence on it as a raw material.
- Carbon footprint.
Production of virgin fiber needs more energy than recycling the PET bottle flakes. During which more carbon emissions escape to the atmosphere. Producing virgin fiber leaves a greater carbon footprint.
Recycling PET helps to clean up the environment and rid it of waste plastic.
The quality of virgin and recycled fiber is on par. It is impossible to tell apart the two in the final product.
- All factors considered making recycled fiber still has an impact on the environment. The amount of energy it uses is higher than that of producing natural fiber.
- Of the two methods of recycling PET, mechanical is the cheapest. Yet, this type of recycled fiber loses strength faster. To boost the companies have to mix it with the virgin filament. Chemical recycling will need more energy and emit high amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere.
To sum up
The difference between virgin and recycled fiber is in the raw materials that make them. For this reason, marketing industries push recycled fiber as the go-to choice. Since its production utilizes plastic items from trash such as bottles.
Using existing material from the environment is a green initiative. From this standpoint, the choice would be obvious. If only the decision could rely on that one factor. As it is, there are more factors to take into account. For instance, virgin fiber may be suitable because of its strength and durability.
Companies will produce virgin fiber in higher volumes in comparison to the recycled. China’s policy on importing plastic waste means the amount of recycled fiber is going to reduce in a major way.