Polyester is the most common synthetic fibre in the world, and is the runner up behind cotton when it comes to production of clothes. So what is polyester actually made of? Plastic! It’s made mainly out of petroleum which is a non-renewable resource, and polyester can’t be decomposed in nature. We all know cotton has a very high energy consumption during production, but polyester is three times worse. The use of water is however substantially lower for polyester in comparison to cotton. Also the use of chemicals is lower for polyester, since it does not grow on fields where chemicals are used as pesticide. Chemicals are still used though, since the production of polyester fibres is in fact a chemical reaction.
So why do we use polyester? It has a few positive traits, mostly associated with how the garment wears. A garment made out of polyester is very durable. The fibers have a high elasticity, meaning you can wear a polyester garment over and over again without it loosing its’ shape. Polyester can also be washed in high temperatures which is good for reducing bacteria. For that reason polyester is common in workout clothes. Another pro about polyester is that the colour wears well without fading over time.
In other words, here are some of the benefits of using polyester!
- Polyester has high elasticity, meaning a polyester garment rarely looses its’ shape.
- Polyester can withhold high washing temperatures, and is generally a durable material.
- Polyester holds colour very well.
Of course there are also cons to this versatile material:
- Polyester is produced by petroleum which is a non-renewable resource.
- During washing micro plastics are released into our waters, resulting in a negative impact on nature, animals, and humans.
- Polyester has a very high energy consumption during production.
Recycled polyester is a great alternative to normal polyester, since it has the same qualities as virgin polyester but with much less negative impact on the environment. Recycled polyester can be made from PET bottles, residue plastic fibers from other industries or old polyester garments. The use of energy for recycled polyester is 70% lower than for normal polyester, making it a perfect alternative when you want the qualities of polyester without the negative impact on the environment.
I have a few items made out of polyester in my own wardrobe. Most of them are at least 5 years old and still in very good condition. A good example of how durable polyester fabric can be! Nowadays I prefer natural materials like cotton or cellulosa based materials like viscose, so I very rarely buy polyester garments anymore. However, polyester can actually be a good choice for some types of items. One example of a new purchase that I’ve made is my Marple Rain Coat from the Swedish brand Houdini. It is made from recycled polyester and I will use this loads during rainy and/or windy walks outside all year round. Outerwear is the perfect example of a good use of polyester, since you tend to wear your outerwear pieces a lot for many years. At the same time they are rarely washed which means they don’t release the same amount of micro plastics as a shirt for example.
To conclude, the production and use of polyester in clothing is really bad for the environment in general. Recycled polyester is however a great alternative that takes care of waste products and turns them into new garments. Last but not least, there are definitely some types of products, like outerwear, where polyester can be a good solution!