Photo by Jimmy Fermin on Unsplash
In previous articles we summarised the types of raw materials for fabrics, dividing them into two main categories: natural and synthetic raw materials. In those articles we also made a brief description of the most common materials that fall into each category and listed their advantages / disadvantages.
Having that as out steppingstone, we can now elaborate guilt-free without evading about the famous polyester as one of the most common raw materials for the production of everyday objects and fabrics in the fashion industry.
When it comes to processing, producing polyester from oil requires other natural resources but also toxic chemicals. Of course, some of these toxic chemicals are released into the environment while the (used) natural resources never return there.
Polyester and garments that contain a large percentage – even 100% polyester clothing – have flooded the fashion industry, our wardrobe and our lives in general. It is the basic raw material preferred by small and international manufacturers, even by the most premium brands worldwide. The main claim that has turned polyester into the king of fashion is that it is comfortable, cool, wrinkle-free and cheap. It is also a fabric that can be easily dyed, it can be printed with an endless variety of designs, colours and patterns creating infinite fabrics of different aesthetics. Obviously, all these advantages claims in favour of polyester are, without a doubt, the reason why it has been the hero material for both fashion companies and consumers.
But is that the true nature of polyester?
As we had briefly described in our previous articles on synthetic and natural raw materials, for each type of material we take into consideration two principal factors: what is the impact of their production and use on the natural environment but also on people. In this context, let’s go over some valuable insights about polyester.
From its production to its use and disposal, polyester has extremely negative effects on the environment. To begin with, this is a material produced using oil, a very important natural resource used in other, vital, needs of daily life (such as energy) whose resources are limited. When it comes to processing, producing polyester from oil requires other natural resources but also toxic chemicals. Of course, some of these toxic chemicals are released into the environment while the (used) natural resources never return there. It is also worth considering that these huge amounts of chemicals require huge volumes of natural resources for their production, which also burdens the environment with waste, and so on.
In addition, in order to create the variety of designs and colours, highly toxic dyes are used, that eventually remain on the fabric. The use of those dyes not only has a negative impact on the environment but also on the person who wears the fabric. Of course, there are certified dyes that are friendly to humans and the environment, but their use is the exception and not the rule.
For our future shopping, the golden rule is to completely avoid polyester clothes – along with most synthetic fabrics – and choose clothes that come from natural fibers and are cruelty free
When washed – machine or even hand washing – polyester fabrics release microfibers that cannot be retained by sewage systems, and eventually end up into our seas, rivers and lakes. These microfibers tend to “invite” other toxic substances (such as trace elements from detergents, pesticides, insecticides, etc.) and create larger masses, which are consumed by fish. And somehow they end up in our stomach.
But it’s not only the production and use of polyester that has an extraordinary negative footprint; the disposal of polyester products and fabrics also causes enormous environmental problems. Most clothes are not recycled but thrown in the trash bins, ending up in landfills. Polyester is not a recyclable and biodegradable material, and while scientists do not know exactly how long this material and all its variants take to decompose in the environment, it is certain that it needs a few centuries.
Although all the above have an indirect direct impact on the wellbeing of animals and humans, there are additional factors that make polyester not just a bad choice in clothing but also potentially harmful to our health.
As mentioned above, polyester requires toxic chemicals to be produced and dyed. In fact, by wearing it, we bring our skin in contact with harmful substances. In addition, polyester is a flammable material and in order to suppress this quality, it is sprayed with special flame retardants that are particularly toxic. Due to that and the very nature of polyester (a type of plastic) many people have allergic reactions to it.
In terms of using the material, polyester fabric may look beautiful but its “behaviour” is not like that at all! Polyester does not allow the skin to breathe, the sweat gets trapped between the fabric and the skin making you more sweaty and warmer – or colder – while it holds any type of odor quicky and almost permanently – even after washing. As for their durability, there is also a catch. They can burn easily but, even if we do not take this slightly extreme scenario into account, they fade and wear out very easily. And they do not need to be used frequently to wear out; even if they stay hidden in our closet, their appearance and shape change over time. So, this is how the claim of a cheap purchase is brought down!
And it all comes down to that: what we, as consumers, can do with both the polyester clothes we already own or when it comes to our future shopping?
As regards the clothes we already have, we should avoid frequent washing, if there is a stain, we should try to remove it locally and not wash the entire piece of clothing, wash at low temperatures and wait until we have a full load for laundry (those two habits have a great environmental impact anyway), wash at slower rotation speeds or even put polyester clothes in special bags that catch microfibers before washing.
For our future shopping, the golden rule is to completely avoid polyester clothes – along with most synthetic fabrics – and choose clothes that come from natural fibers and are cruelty free. It is very important to always look at the composition labels in clothes because there are various mixes and many types of polyester hidden in them (e.g. the famous polyester cotton poly / co or polyester wool pol / W, and many more).
In the end, it may be a little more expensive, but we make a good deed for both the environment and our health with clothes that will stay with us for many years, reducing the total cost of shopping in the long run!