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If You’re Shopping For a New Swimsuit, Try a Recycled One

Spandex is a petroleum-based material that also releases microplastics into the water supply. So when shopping for sustainable swimwear, what’s best?

As new bikinis, one-pieces, and briefs rotate into people’s wardrobes, the worn-out ones typically wind up in landfills.

As new bikinis, one-pieces, and briefs rotate into people’s wardrobes, the worn-out ones typically wind up in landfills.

Photographer: Jayme Gershen/Bloomberg
Corrected

In the first half of the year, before the specter of the delta variant arose, consumers were in a liberated mood. Along with airline tickets and high heels, swimsuits became must-haves for shoppers eager to escape quarantine. Globally, consumers spent $2.7 billion on swimwear in the first half of 2021 — a 19% jump from the same period in 2019, according to industry analysts at NPD Group.

For decades now, most swimsuits have been made with Spandex, which was invented by materials scientists at DuPont in 1959 as a lighter, more breathable alternative to rubber. The petroleum-based material quickly became standard in the apparel industry, and in 1972, Speedo became the first company to sell Spandex swimwear. As of 2017, polyester and Spandex make up about 65% of the fabrics used in the swimwear market, according to Allied Market Research.