Polyester - What Is It and Why Is It a Problem?
Updated: Jan 29
If you have ever tried to look into sustainability in fashion and clothing, there is a high chance you have come across the name ‘polyester’ as well as the idea that it must be avoided at all costs.
But what is polyester and what is so bad about this fabric?
As the demand for clothing has increased as of late, more clothing is being produced. This is especially true of polyester clothing as polyester is the cheapest material to produce. Therefore clothing made of polyester is far cheaper than other clothing.
It is for this reason that most clothes from fast fashion brands are made from it.
The low prices at which these clothes are sold at makes them far more appealing to consumers, and therefore more of it is bought, increasing the demand for more of this clothing, which in turn, increases the amount of polyester clothing being produced, and the cycle continues.
This excessive production and consumption of clothing has great impacts on the environment, which is not helped by these low prices, which helps promote a more throw-away attitude towards fashion.
The name ‘polyester’ is used to refer to a synthetic fabric that is made up of polyethylene terephthalate fibres, which is a plastic. One of the main issues with it is how it is manufactured.
The polymers are usually derived from fossil fuels. The process of extraction and processing is a lengthy one that requires a lot of energy and produces great amounts of air pollution.
This is an issue as air pollution contributes to the greenhouse effect, which leads to climate change and global warming. Furthermore, fossil fuels are non-renewable resources, meaning that the production of polyester is unsustainable, and the mass production of this material is contributing to the depletion of this resource.
The environmental impacts do not even stop at the manufacturing process. Although polyester can be recycled, the PET molecules it is made up of degrades by a bit in each loop, meaning that it cannot be recycled many times. Also, the recycling process requires breaking down the polyester with another chemical process, which is not ideal.
Moreover, polyester is not biodegradable - it takes hundreds of years for one it to biodegrade.
To make matters worse, before it has a chance to biodegrade, toxic synthetic microfibers can fall off certain types of clothing and enter waterways through washing machines. It is estimated that around 170,000 synthetic fibres are released into the atmosphere each year. This is not only dangerous for us humans but also aquatic animals and wildlife.
So what can we do to improve the situation? Although it is better to buy clothing made from natural fibres when available, the purchasing of polyester is very understandable, especially due to the low prices. Furthermore, other fabrics are not much better when it comes to environmental impact.
The best thing to do is to try and purchase less clothing in general or to try to thrift and upcycle to reduce the excessive production of clothing.