The raw materials of our clothes are one of the most significant contributors to the fashion industry’s overall environmental impact. Especially synthetic fibres, as the difference between the carbon footprint of natural fibres like cotton or linen and synthetic fibres such as polyester or nylon, is massive.
Did you know that producing polyester releases two to three times more carbon emission than cotton?
Why is polyester so popular?
In recent decades, the world of fashion has shifted towards fast fashion, with humankind doubling its clothing consumption. The industry strives to make Fashion Billionaires by limiting manufacturing costs, reducing production lead times, and always providing more.
Polyester is the perfect fibre candidate – it’s cheap, easy to make, looks vivid, the same yarn could be used for various products, and it doesn’t wrinkle too much. A win-win? Wait, what about the environmental cost?
Where are the emissions coming from?
Being a synthetic fibre, polyester is human-made, often produced from fossil fuels like coal and petroleum with large amounts of water consumed during production. Owing to the use of fossil fuels and non-eco-friendly practices in the production chain, a polyester garment contributes a large carbon footprint – 5.5kg of carbon dioxide per polyester t-shirt, to be precise. That’s enough to make you a cuppa for a year.
To extract fossil fuels from the Earth, large amounts of energy are needed, usually from burning even more fossil fuels and releasing harmful emissions into the air. Moreover, methane – a fast-acting greenhouse gas – is even released as the crude oil is extracted. Even more energy is needed to turn raw materials into fibre. Did we forget about the energy required to weave yarn into fabric? Well, the toll is massive.
It’s imperative to note that polyester is not the only synthetic fabric with such a high carbon footprint – other materials such as acrylic or nylon are just as bad or even worse.
It is alarming because the production and consumption of polyester are rapidly increasing. Unless we stop overconsuming polyester at such a high rate, reducing its impact on climate change will become increasingly challenging.
How to make a difference?
The amount of polyester in fast fashion collections is striking – and if we hope to reduce the environmental impact of our closet, we must cut down polyester from it. Next time you need to buy clothes, choose natural fibres.
Synthetic fibres can also be made more sustainable – by creating them from post-consumer waste such as plastic bottles, otherwise ending up in landfills. Recycled polyester may not be perfect, but it’s much better than virgin polyester, and it helps keep waste away from our landfills.
Like we say, Think Sustainable.