I've been on the search recently for more natural fibers and materials when it comes to the clothing I wear, especially my gym and yoga wear. Which is mostly polyester and synthetic (yours is too, check the label). Little did I know how bad this fabric is for our environment.
After a bit of digging... it's not so good, to say the least!
Fabrics come in all shapes and sizes, but do you ever give a second thought to the impact those fabrics have on the planet. Take polyester, for example, it's evolved from your dad's 70s disco shirt to our generations yoga pants and undies, and the more we use and need polyester the more of an impact it has on the planet.
Polyester has become ubiquitous in our clothes, it's cheap to make, works very well when combined with other fabrics and can be found in dresses, t-shirts, and jeans.
In the last decade or so, we have seen a decline in cotton production and an increase in the use of polyester.
This means one thing... that clothes we are wearing and buying are increasingly becoming plastic. Scary!
The most common types of polyesters (polymers) are polyethylene terephthalate or PET, plastics that are derived from crude oil used to make things like condiment bottles.
After an extensive processing process, manufacturers are able to turn these plastic fibers into the fabric we call polyester.
According to Tecnon Orbichem (a world leader in providing data and analysis to the petrochemical industry since 1976), from 1980 - 2007, the amount of polyester increased from 5.8 million tons to 34 million tons and is expected to jump to 99.8 million tons by 2025.
This has happened partly because the global cotton supply is becoming more and more limited, I mean there is only so much land available to grow this stuff and they are increasingly in competition with large factory farms and food crops, all vying for the same land.
And if all of this was not bad enough, Tecnon Orbichem says that the need for other synthetics like rayon and nylon will see a major jump as well.
Along with all of this, manufacturers are leading the charge when it comes to technology in this sector. More and more of us are looking for "sweat-proof" and athleisure wear options, driving up the demand.
Right now as I sit here typing this in my yoga pants, I feel stressed out about the impact this is going to have on our planet. What are the long term ramifications?
With the global demand for synthetic fibers on the rise, I think it's fair to say that it's not just the manufacturers who are to blame. We, the consumer, need to wake up and realize that our need for fast fashion is having an unbelievably detrimental effect on the planet.
A little on cotton vs. polyester:
- uses large quantities of pesticides and fertilizers to grow
- these are emitted into our atmosphere
- polluting the air we breathe and water we drink
- it also take a great deal of water to produce cotton
- uses much less water in production
- uses toxins (but not generally released into the enviro)
- some companies are using recycled plastic bottles to turn them into polyester clothing
Sound good right?
Every day we throw away billions and billions of plastic bottles, proving that we all need to use way less of it in our daily lives. Now yes there are companies working hard to recycle those plastic bottles and turn them into useable goods for our homes. But there is way more to the story.
You see every time you wash a synthetic fabric, regardless of how it's made (new or from recycled goods), tiny pieces of fabric called microfibres break off and head right down the drain, hundreds of thousands of them in fact! And the older the item is, the bigger the problem. Water treatment plants are not able to pull these tiny fibers out so they end up in our rivers, lakes, and oceans.
In the ocean, they absorb other toxins lurking about, toxins like petrol and pesticides that fish end up eating and yep and we end up eating because we eat the fish.
Scientists estimate that there are 1.4 million trillion microbes floating around in the ocean.
So even if we buy less synthetic clothing (we should) it's really up to the companies to find better ways to manufacture these goods or phase then out altogether (and that's never going to happen).
Aside from the chemicals swimming about in our oceans, it takes a great deal of energy to produce goods made from polyester and that my friends are a major contributor to global climate change.
When you compare the qualities of cotton vs polyester, the first is biodegradable the is latter not.
Biodegradable means "a subject or object is capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms." Cotton does not have a snowball's chance in hell to biodegrade because most cotton ends up in the landfill.
No matter which way you look at it the production of fabrics to meet the demand is simply destroying the planet, one yoga pant at a time.
At the end of it all, almost all of your clothes will actually be plastic!
So what can we do? Pay close attention to your labels and opt for the following:
Linen (made from flax)
Jute (a very coarse fiber used for things like carpets, not clothing)
The bottom. I think, is to be a conscious consumer! And to push manufacturers to give us more sustainable choices.
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