Fabric of Finisterre / Recycled Cotton

Recycled Cotton

We’re always looking at new materials to help us reduce our impact, and in 2023 we increased the use of Recycled Cotton in our range with multiple new styles. But what is recycled cotton and what are the environmental benefits of using it?

What is recycled cotton?

Recycled cotton yarn is created from cotton waste that is collected, shredded and re-spun into a new yarn. This is referred to as mechanical recycling, a process where old garments or other fabrics are shredded down into raw fibres, before then being spun back into a usable yarn to make new products. This means we can offer all the benefits and properties of cotton, without the carbon footprint of growing and harvesting the crops. 

Recycled cotton can come from either pre-consumer industrial waste (where cotton offcuts are collected from mill waste) or from post-consumer waste (i.e. t-shirts or other cotton garments that are at the end of their life and can no longer be repaired. 

Organic Vs Recycled Cotton: which is best?

Ultimately, both options are better for the environment than conventional cotton, which is usually grown intensively with the use of harsh synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. Whilst organic cotton requires far fewer resources to grow than conventional cotton, growing crops need irrigation and fertilising, meaning water consumption is still high. Because recycled cotton is created from pre-existing material that does not need growing, the amount of water required and CO2 produced when making it is far lower than that of both conventional and organic cotton. Furthermore, recycled cotton is generally made from waste that may otherwise have gone to landfill.

Whilst it is possible to recycle organic cotton in this way, recycled cotton cannot be labelled organic as it is difficult to ensure the origin of all the recycled feedstock is from an organic source. This is especially true when the material comes from post-consumer sources.In terms of quality, recycled cotton can be made to feel just the same as organic or conventional cotton, however sometimes there may be visual clues such as flecks of colour in the yarn from the original feedstock or dyeing process.

Recycled cotton products can also be recycled again! Although this cannot be done indefinitely as every time a fibre is mechanically recycled it will shorten, making it harder to spin into a new yarn.

Sourcing Recycled Cotton

Due to limited availability, recycled cotton can be difficult to source. Mechanically recycling cotton can be a challenge as it produces shorter fibres which can be harder to re-spin. This means it usually needs blending with other fibres or virgin organic cotton in order to create fibre strength and make a good quality product.

Post-consumer recycled cotton is even less available due to the extremely limited availability of post-consumer cotton, the complexity of sorting cotton blend fabrics (cotton with polyester or cotton with elastane) and the labour intensive process of removing components from recycled cotton garments.

Our Recycled Cotton Range

We currently only offer recycled cotton products made from pre-consumer recycled cotton, such as our new range of heavyweight Orca t-shirts, but we are gradually increasing the use of this material where we find availability. We also send cotton products at the end of their life to our partners at Reskinned where they are mechanically recycled to create feedstock for new recycled cotton garments.