Polyester Clothes and Their Impact on the Environment

The fashion industry is one of the leading causes of pollution in the world. It is responsible for about 10 percent of all global carbon emissions and about 6 percent of all global water consumption. It also contributes to air pollution and deforestation. Nearly 3 million tons of clothing are produced every year. These clothes are then disposed into landfills, where they can take many years to decompose.

Polyester clothing is a major contributor to environmental pollution. The production of polyester clothes releases a lot of toxic chemicals into the environment. When you wear polyester clothes, they shed harmful microplastics through wear and tear, and when you discard these clothes, they add more toxic chemicals to the environment.

Let’s take a look at how polyester clothing is harming our environment.

Read More: What is upcycling?

Polyester is a synthetic fiber that is made up of long chains of molecules. The production of polyester uses a lot of chemicals and produces toxic byproducts. In recent years, the environmental impact of polyester has attracted increasing attention.

The manufacturing process of polyester contributes to global warming and can cause environmental damage. Polyester is primarily manufactured from petroleum, which is a non-renewable resource and creates pollution when it’s processed and manufactured. Although polyester can be produced from natural polymers, such as bioplastics, only a small portion of polyester used in the fashion industry is made from those materials.

Manufacturing garments made from fossil fuels is anticipated to increase over the next 20 years. As demand for transportation decreases, oil and gas firms tend to place their bets on goods like polyester clothing for their future growth. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), plastics will be the main factor driving the net increase in oil demand over the next two decades. Almost 15% of all petrochemical plastic is used to produce textile, making the textile industry the second-largest consumer of petrochemical plastic after the packaging industry.


Cotton has been surpassed by polyester clothing

Polyester is now used to make the majority of garments worldwide. The dominance of cotton, which dates back hundreds of years, has been surpassed by polyester as the primary textile fiber of the twenty-first century.

According to the available data, almost every fast fashion article of clothing we purchase contains some polyester. The use of plastic in clothing manufacture is not limited to the fast fashion industry; all types of fashion love polyester clothing. You find plastic in high-end garments such as Lululemon Joggers and Gucci skirts.

There’s a good reason why businesses favor polyester clothing. Polyester is tough and adaptable and can be used to make everything from silky gowns to faux fur jackets and sporting wear. Polyester is not only popular for its durability but also because it’s cheap to produce and easy to dye. Because the polyester production process uses less water and land than cultivating natural fibers like cotton, it has been falsely hyped up as being more environmentally friendly than natural fibers.

The production of polyester has been on the rise since the 1950s. Polyester yarn sales are projected to increase from $106 billion in 2022 to $174.7 billion in 2032. Over 92 million tons of polyester fiber are expected to be produced annually in the next ten years, a 47 percent increase.

As an example, between November 1 and November 15, 2021, more than 15,000 items of clothing were uploaded to the online store of Chinese e-retailer Shein. Bloomberg News gathered information on these items to find out what materials were used to produce them. Similarly, the Royal Society of Arts, situated in the U.K., gathered data for 10,000 women’s apparel styles from Asos, Missguided, Boohoo, and PrettyLittleThing. They found that polyester is widely used in men’s and women’s apparel.

Shein releases 1,000 new women’s apparel styles on average per day, 85 percent of which are made of polyester. At least some plastics-based material, such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, or elastane, is used in about 95 percent of Shein’s fashions.

Garments made with blended fibers are on the rise

Most clothes are constructed from mixtures, or blends, of several fibers, such as polyester and cotton or polyester and nylon. These blends help create diverse textures in clothing. At the same time, they make it more difficult to recycle textile waste. Even without blended fibers, sorting garments by material for recycling takes a competent team and is labor-intensive. On top of that, the process of turning mixed fibers into reusable yarn requires using toxic chemical solvents.

According to Tasha Lewis, associate professor at Cornell University’s Department of Human-Centered Design, brands “develop blends [of fibers] to obtain a certain type of clothing, but are not thinking about the end of life of that garment” and what is needed to reuse or recycle those fibers.


Polyester clothing has catastrophic impacts on the environment

The prevalence of polyester clothing in the apparel industry has a variety of negative repercussions on the environment. One is that it takes a lot of energy to create polyester. In 2015, polyester production for apparel released three times as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than cotton.

What’s more, after each wash and use, synthetic materials like polyester shed microscopic particles of plastic. These tiny pieces of plastic, known as microplastics, harm animals that consume them and prevent them from growing and reproducing. They also damage waterways, oceans, and land. According to Australian researchers, the ocean floor contains from 9.25 to 15.86 million tons of microplastics.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, fibers were the source of 71% of the microplastics discovered in river water tests. According to scientific estimates, textiles are the primary cause of microplastic contamination in the world’s oceans, accounting for 35% of the microplastics discovered there. According to a study conducted in England, marine mussels exposed to microplastics exhibited DNA damage, distorted gills, and damaged digestive tracts.

Only a tiny amount of polyester clothing is recycled

Data are scarce, but a study from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that less than 1% of the clothing collected for recycling internationally is actually used to make new clothes.

Just around 0.2 percent (26 out of roughly 12,000) of the Shein models made of plastic in Bloomberg’s data set included some mention of recycled materials. Recycled plastics, most frequently from plastic bottles, were used to create 5.8 percent of Asos designs, 4.4 percent of Missguided styles, 1.9 percent of Boohoo styles, and 0.8 percent of PrettyLittleThing styles.

Bottom line

In order to reduce pollution, we need to be more conscious about what we wear and how it affects the environment. By avoiding polyester clothing, you will help reduce pollution and save resources. When we wear polyester clothing, the fibers are often coated in plastic. This plastic adds to pollution, and natural process cannot clear it from the oceans. The chemical composition of microplastics released from polyester clothing can harm marine life. They also block out light, making it difficult for marine ecosystems to grow and thrive.

Visit our website to learn more about how to choose your clothing to minimize its negative impact on the environment!

Frequently asked questions

Polyester is a generalized term for any fabric made of polyester yarns or fibres.

Polyester is made of artificial materials like purified terephthalic acid, monotheluene glycol, and petroleum.

Some people may be allergic to polyester and show symptoms like rashes, itching, and redness.

The polyester fabric falls into different types, including PCDT polyester, plant-based polyester, and ethylene polyester.

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