For a long time, the production of global recycled polyester fiber is mainly concentrated on the stable fiber with a terminal application rate of more than 90%. Statistics from 2011 to 2016 reveals that among the terminal application rate of global recycled polyester fiber, stable fiber takes up the largest proportion between 91% and 94% indicating that the production and application of global recycled polyester fiber are largely concentrated on stable fiber products with lower unit price. In the future, there will be a growth in filament fiber products with higher added value and supported by global retailers and distributors. For example, Nike is about to launch a women's collection made from recycled polyester fiber. With the aid of 3-D body mapping technology to enhance the specific body figures of women while taking into account natural exercise, comfort, and performance, the new product series adopt double knit cotton and renewable polyester fiber to provide a soft touch of clothing that captures the athletes' hearts like no other (see Figure 1).
As everyone knows, Mainland China had become the world's largest producer of recycled polyester fiber which mainly concentrated on the production of staple fiber. According to the statistics of Japan Chemical Fibers Association, approximately 38 million metric tons of raw fiber were produced in Mainland China in 2016, among which filament fiber accounted for 74% (or 28.2 million metric tons) and staple fiber accounted for 26% (or 9.8 million metric tons). However, the annual output of recycled polyester fiber in Mainland China was nearly 4.8 million metric tons, accounting for 66% of the global recycled polyester fiber production, of which filament fiber accounted for 10% (or 0.47 million metric tons) and staple fiber accounted for 90% (or 4.32 million metric tons).
Karla Magruder, founder of Fabrikology and leader of the recycled polyester work group of Textile Exchange (see figure 2) revealed that,
Although the demand for recycled polyester fiber has increased significantly, compared to raw polyester fiber, recycled polyester fiber still accounts for only 14% of all polyester fiber markets, most of which were used as low-end applications such as fiber fillers or industrial fibers. To make filament fiber, better technology and quality are required.
Due to the expansion of production and the rapid improvement of technology and quality, recycled polyester fiber is becoming more and more competitive in terms of market price which is also the main reason for the gradual expansion of recycled polyester fiber market. Raw polyester staple fiber contributes to the largest proportion of polyester fiber market and it is expected to reach US$ 16.45 billion in revenue by 2025. According to a report conducted by Research and Markets, recycled polyester staple fiber will have significant market growth in the future due to global environmental awareness on the rise and will replace part of the application markets for raw polyester staple fiber.
Repreve®, a brand of American chemical fiber manufacturer Unifi, mainly produces recycled polyester fiber (see Figure 3). The company has set a target of recycling 20 billion PET bottles by 2020 and has so far recycled 12 billion PET bottles. At the same time, the company also promotes the functional fiber made of Repreve® fiber and wins the recognition and appraisal from the consumer market.
At present, the main developmental direction of global recycled polyester fiber is how to manufacture fine denier yarn and ultrafine denier yarn, and blend it with staple fiber such as cotton and rayon to improve the product quality in general clothing and home textiles. Without doubt, the textile industry is very interested in recycled polyester fiber, especially one that replaces raw polyester fiber. In addition to one-time recycling, many manufacturers have begun to study how to recycle polyester fiber textiles that have already been recycled once to achieve a real resource cycle.