Polyester - Why We Need To Stop Buying it
Polyester is a little bit of a dirty word in the sustainable fashion debate. Here’s the problem, and some solutions:
Why is polyester such a popular choice for the Fashion Industry?
Synthetic polyester, in general, is a non-biodegradable polymer - you mix ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid together - that while being extremely durable, wrinkle and water resistant takes more than 200 years to decompose. The speed, low cost and ease of production makes polyester the number one choice for fashion companies in clothing production.
How Fast Fashion has Influenced the rise of Polyester?
Fast fashion companies, specialising in creating the latest trends from the catwalk to the high street as fast as possible, are constantly battling time limitations and keeping costs low. Polyester production is cheap and fast in comparison to natural fibres such as wool or cotton that need time to grow. When the fibre was first developed throughout the 1940s and then finally introduced to the American public in 1951 as a miracle material that could ‘be worn for 68 days straight without ironing and still look presentable’ was seen as the answer to fast fashion companies prayers. It is now regarded as being cheap and uncomfortable but many consumers will ignore these aspects in favour of the latest trends and low cost.
Why are sustainability warriors so against this material?
As previously mentioned, polyester does not decompose for more than 200 years and the rate that the fashion industry produces garments - more than 150bn annually with enough for 20 new garments for every person, every year - means that there is an over abundance of waste with nowhere for it to go but landfill. Even if the sight of all that waste isn’t enough, cheap synthetic fibres also emit gasses like N2O which is 300 times more damaging than CO2. But one of the quieter issues is the washing of polyester clothing that every single time will shed plastic microfibres into the water supply. Plastics account for 85% of the human-made material found in the oceans, threatens marine wildlife and ultimately ends up in our food.
What can you do?
There are basic steps that we can all take to help this problem and they are incredibly easy to do:
1. Buy Less - Sometimes with constantly new items available we buy more than we need. The less that people buy sets a precedent for brands and over time this will make them reduce production in line with demand. Less products, less waste = #SlowFashion.
2. Keep clothing for longer - Fast fashion garments, which we wear less than 5 times and keep for 35 days, produce over 400% more carbon emissions per item per year than garments worn 50 times and kept for a full year. Simple as that, buy a garment for long term appeal, wear it longer, buy from second hand. Easy.
3. Choose your materials more carefully - When choosing a garment take a look at the care label and see what it is made from. Hemp, linen, wool and tencel are all much more sustainable and naturally biodegradable, especially if they are undyed.
4. Purchase a washing bag that helps stop microfibres - micro fragment of plastics in the water supply are a global issue. Guppy Friend laundry bags reduce fibre shedding and protect clothing. Essentially the bag collects the fibres when you wash your clothes and you can collect them at the end and throw them away in a normal bin so they don’t end up in the water supply. The technology behind these bags will continue to progress but this is a great way to help.
5. Support brands that are more sustainable - There are lots of sustainable brands that are actively working to create without damaging. Check out the ethical brand directory for all sorts of helpful advice and suggested brands to shop from for every aspect of your life.
The global fashion industry has many environmental and ethical problems however there are solutions and ways that each of us can take personal responsibility and make changes. If the Youth Strike for Climate shows us anything, is that no person is unaffected by the environmental challenges we face and no one is helpless to make worthwhile changes.
N.B This is written independently with no paid advertising.