The clothes you put on every day might feel good, but chances are they are harmful to you and the environment. From outwear to underwear, many brands use synthetic materials in their products. In particular, polyester is widely used for its advantageous properties. But the convenience of polyester comes at a very high price to people and the environment.
About 60% of all garments are made from synthetic materials. One-third of that, about 18%, is polyester fibers. On its face, polyester clothing is a great invention. It is long-lasting properties combined with resistance to fading and wrinkling, makes it the perfect material for fast-paced lives we are living. But this convenience comes at a high cost. From manufacturing to distribution to disposal, polyester leaves chemical traces and affects human bodies, animals, air, and water.
The main appeal of the polyester fabric is its price and durability. Due to widespread manufacturing, polyester is cheap to buy. It comes in many colors, thicknesses, and patterns. From luxurious fashion houses to cheap fast-fashion brands, this synthetic material has become a staple in a creative process.
Chemically Loaded Polyester Production.
The harmful effects of polyester fibers start at the very beginning of the manufacturing process, which requires a lot of water, oil, and coal.
The first chemical reaction happens at very high temperatures and creates a monomer. The second chemical reaction produces a polymer. After that, the polymer’s long strips dry, get broken up, melted, and spun into fibers.
During the final steps, the fibers are treated with chemicals to achieve the right color and thickness, as well as flame or water resistance. Also, some clothes get treated with additional chemicals to protect from mildew and parasites. (ReMake.world, There are hidden chemicals in our clothing).
Polyester’s harmful effects on human bodies.
The number of chemicals required to produce and process polyester is mind-blowing. What is even more shocking is that our skin comes in direct contact with these chemicals.
Synthetic materials are heat sensitive. When your body warms up the clothes you wear, chemicals in fibers are released. Since polyester restricts the flow of air, trapped chemicals are reabsorbed by the skin. The effects can vary from mild skin irritation to dermatitis.
Perfluorochemicals (PFCs) are added to clothes to protect from stains and wrinkles. But studies suggest that PFCs could be linked to cancer. In some studies, these chemicals are suspected of causing liver and kidney damage. (TheHouseOfPillows.eu, Polyester shouldn’t be in your bed).
Some clothes are treated with formaldehyde to protect pieces from shrinking. This chemical is known to trigger asthma symptoms. (TheHouseOfPillows.eu, Polyester shouldn’t be in your bed).
Polyester’s Harmful Effects on The Environment.
Synthetic materials affect our environment from conception to disposal. Seventy million barrels of oil are used annually to produce polyester. Also, a large amount of water and energy is required to carry out the production. (Forbes.com, Making climate change fashionable).
As we wear and wash polyester clothing, tiny particles get into our water and food supply. Washing machines cannot catch the smallest polyester particles, thus letting them pass through into the environment.
Once we are done wearing clothes, we dump them into land fields. Polyester takes 200 years to biodegrade, and even then, tiny particles get into food and water supplies. At the rate we are producing it, polyester will forever reside on our planet poisoning, water, air, and animals.
History Of Polyester.
To fully understand how polyester took over the fashion world, we need to go back to 1940. At the time, Dupont was the biggest nylon maker. Although Dupont did some research and experiments with synthetic fibers, the company decided to focus on nylon.
In 1945, Dupont started to experiment with polyester fibers. The company purchased rights to the “polyester” patent from Imperial Chemical Industries in the U.K. The investment was very successful. In 1945, Dupont produced its first Dacron polyester fiber. (ThoughtCo.com, History of polyester).
During 1950, synthetic materials were gaining popularity but not quickly enough. Dupont executives, understanding that French fashion has a lot of influence over clothing, decided to target famous fashion houses. The company sent out material samples and offered free publicity.
In 1955, French fashion houses like Coco Chanel, Jean Patou, and Christian Dior featured gowns with or from synthetic materials, courtesy of Dupont Industries. This was the groundbreaking point when polyester forever became injected into the fashion world. (ScienceHistory.org, Nylon a revolution in textiles).
What can we do?
Buy Less Polyester.
The first and foremost, we need to buy less polyester clothing. Favoring natural fibers and biodegradable materials will elevate the strain on our oceans and land fields.
The easy way to check for polyester is to check a tiny white tag on the inside.
Buy Quality Products.
Buying quality items, and then taking care of them is another way to help the environment. Avoid shopping fast fashion brands and, instead, save up for an excellent quality cashmere sweater. Take good care of your expensive friends, and they will last you years.
The important step that we all have to take is to start recycling. Although the process requires lots of energy and water, it is still better than manufacturing new polyester.
But recycling has its limits. Many clothes are made from materials that are partially polyester, and these are very hard, if not impossible, to recycle. Items that are 100% polyester cannot be recycled forever. Every iteration makes fibers lose valuable properties, creating an inferior product.
Change for the better is a long game.
Change is slow, but it is not impossible. As more people make an effort to buy sustainable clothing and stay away from quick frills of fast fashion, we will be able to change the tide. Consumers’ habits will no doubt force brands to invest in new eco-friendly practices and materials.
But take action now. Each time you shop, check the little tag on the inside. If you see synthetic materials, think twice whether you want to wear a garment loaded with toxins. Instead, maybe save your money to buy a sustainably produced garment next time.