July 15, 2020

The truth about polyester (it’s not pretty)

The truth about polyester (it’s not pretty)

July 15, 2020

Just as it’s good to look at the ingredients list of what you buy when food-shopping, it’s equally important to take a closer look into what materials make up our clothes, and understand implications they have on the earth… Here’s looking at you, polyester.

What is it?

Polyester is an extremely cheap and versatile textile that’s used in the fashion industry. A relatively new material that came around in the 1940’s during the technological revolution, its creation was intended to facilitate the quicker, cheaper, and more efficient production of clothing.

To give you an idea of just how pervasive polyester is within the fashion industry today: about 60% of clothing in circulation right now contains polyester in some shape or form.

You’d hope that with that kind of prevalence, it’s something good…right? 

Unfortunately, not so. 

Polyester is an extremely pollutant, non-biodegradable plastic. Every item of polyester clothing that has been made is still on this earth today. 

Being petroleum-based, it is an extremely carbon heavy non-renewable resource. It is made from oil. In fact, 70 million barrels of oil are used every year for polyester production alone. What’s more, every time you wash a single item of polyester, it leaks about 5000 microplastics into the ocean. Micro-plastics make up about 60% of the plastic in our oceans right now. Of course your Keep-Cup is important but the stuff we can’t even see is some of the most insidious.

Yikes. So why is it so popular?

Cheap to produce, easy to dye, doesn’t wrinkle very easily, easy to store – for years polyester was seen as fast-fashion’s “dream material” (*eye-roll*). 

That was, at least, until the public started getting more savvy to the underlying reality of its production…

The harsh reality

Many fast-fashion factories are based in countries where environmental laws are a lot more lax. This means that the harmful chemicals, carcinogens and dyes used in clothing production are being leaked into the water supplies, the soil and the atmosphere in the surrounding areas. In places like India, where polyester production is massive, rivers, lakes and land are all being polluted and are unable to be farmed and fished because of the implications of polyester. 

People have to drink this toxic water. They have to bath their children in it; they use it to cook; to grow their own crops; to brush their teeth… And you can bet this is having absolutely detrimental, sometimes even fatal effects to their health.

So not only is it incredibly destructive to the environment and the people where it’s made, but polyester is cheap quality. It makes you sweat more (much like you would if you were wearing a plastic bag) and it does not rect well to the increased washes that it requires to stay stink-free.

Case study: Patagonia

…It’s not all doom and gloom though! The some-what silver lining is that polyester IS recyclable. 

Take the likes of Patagonia for example.

Patagonia creates all of their polyester from recycled materials like plastic bottles. Their return policy page includes DIY tips to help you make small repairs to clothing and gear and a lifetime ‘Ironclad Guarantee’ where you can send in one of their products for a repair/replacement at any stage of owning it. 

WornWear is an entire sub-organisation of Patagonia, with the specific goal of repurposing used and worn Patagonia gear and clothing. To put the cherry on top, they’ve also made a commitment to be fossil free by 2025. *applause emoji* 

Clearly, polyester has its uses and it can be used responsibly—but it’s been hijacked by fast-fashion houses to the detriment of the masses. 

So what can I do? 

When you buy good, quality polyester, it will withstand the test of time. (Check this beginner’s guide to assessing ‘quality’ garments and an easy-breezy Buzzfeed guide to buying ‘quality’ items).

Start browsing vintage shops, and look into brands that make clothing from sustainable materials. It may cost a bit more but you’re investing in something that will last longer AND HUZZAHHH WILL NOT MAKE YOU SWEAT PROFUSELY. 

Another solution? Buy second hand. 

There is already so much polyester that has put its footprint on the planet. You can extend its life by buying second-hand, putting into action the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ in your sustainable fashion activism. 

Put simply, there are multiple ways in which we can intercept the vicious cycle of sweaty polyester pits and microplastics, we just have to be open to giving them a try.