How Sustainable Are Polyester Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis
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Hey fellow impactful ninja ?
You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts.
Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click.
But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend.
First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide.
And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.
First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.
And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you.
When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).
And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself.
You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money.
Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go.
Polyester is cheap and durable, explaining the material’s extreme popularity as a type of fabric. The sheer volume of polyester fibers used in textiles (and other industries) intensifies the environmental impacts of synthesizing this material, especially from newly extracted fossil fuels, which is often the case. So we had to ask: How sustainable are polyester fabrics?
Polyester fabrics are generally unsustainable. Manufacturing virgin polyester from fossil fuels uses a lot of energy and causes environmental pollution. Also, the microplastics released from washing polyester fabrics pose health risks to wildlife and humans and could end up inside marine animals.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the life-cycle of polyester fabrics used for clothes and bedding. Then, we evaluate its sustainability, potential, and shortfalls. And in the end, we’ll show you tips for buying sustainable products made with polyester fabrics.
Here’s How We Assessed the Sustainability of Polyester Fabrics
Polyester fabrics are generally considered unsustainable because of the energy-intensive and high-polluting manufacturing processes and the limited options at the end of the fabrics’ life.
However, not all polyester fabrics are made equally (unsustainably).
- Polyester made with virgin fossil fuels is ranked class D – the second least sustainable fiber class by Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibres. Virgin polyester is more sustainable than Class E fibers such as nylon, conventional cotton, and viscose.
- Chemically recycled polyester ranks Class B, similar to organic cotton, chemically recycled nylon, or Tencel fibers.
- Mechanically recycled polyester belongs to class A – the most sustainable fiber class.
“Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”Oxford Dictionary
To understand the sustainability of polyester fabrics, we must assess its life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCA to research and create more sustainable products. So, let’s have a look at the LCA of polyester fabrics!
In this article, we’ll use the cradle-to-grave perspective of the LCA, examining the five stages of the life-cycle of clothes and bedding made with polyester fabrics. When applicable, we also look at cradle-to-gate assessments.
|The life-cycle stages of polyester fabrics||Each stage’s sustainability|
|Sourcing of polyester fabrics||The raw material used to start making polyester fabrics is ethylene, a monomer often derived from petroleum or natural gas. The fossil origin of ethylene makes it an unsustainable raw material. However, ethylene for polyester can also come from renewable biowaste or crops, as well as recycled plastics, which are more sustainable options.|
|Manufacturing of polyester fabrics||Manufacturing polyester fabrics is generally not sustainable. The process is energy-intensive, water-thirsty, and high-polluting. High energy demand could have severe knock-on ecological impacts when fossil fuels are the main energy sources at manufacturing locations.|
|Transporting of polyester fabrics||Transporting can be a carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of items made with polyester fabrics because of the emissions associated with transporting and delivering vehicles. Polyester fabrics typically travel from mines where fossil fuels were extracted to produce ethylene – the raw material for polyester- to processing factories, sorting centers, shops, and consumer’s houses before going to recycling centers or landfills.|
|Usage of polyester fabrics||The usage of polyester fabrics is generally considered unsustainable because washing polyester clothes during the usage phase contributes to the increasingly serious problem of microplastic presence in marine environments. However, polyester fabrics can last a lifetime, eliminating the need for frequent replacement.|
|End-of-life of polyester fabrics||The end-of-life stage for the typical fossil-based polyester fabrics is not sustainable because they are not biodegradable.|
We can say that the typical fossil-based polyester fabrics are not sustainable, but recycled polyester fabrics can be sustainable. The actual environmental impact of a particular product, like a sweater or a rug, depends on more specific factors, including the raw material, the manufacturing processes, and the distance and mode of transportation.
Let’s dive deeper into each life-cycle stage and find out how you can buy polyester fabrics more sustainably.
How Sustainable Is the Sourcing of Raw Materials for Polyester Fabrics
The raw material used to start making polyester fabrics is ethylene, a monomer often derived from petroleum or natural gas. The fossil origin of ethylene makes it an unsustainable raw material. However, ethylene for polyester can also come from renewable biowaste or crops, as well as recycled plastics, which are more sustainable options.
What Raw Materials Are Used for Polyester Fabrics
Ethylene is the main raw material used to make polyester fabrics. Typically, ethylene is derived from petroleum (i.e., naphtha) or natural gas (i.e., ethane). Conversely, ethylene can come from renewable plant crops or biowaste, such as corn-based ethylene.
How Do the Raw Materials Sourced for Polyester Fabrics Impact the Environment
Sourcing fossil-based ethylene as raw material for polyester fabrics, which is yet the most common route, is unsustainable because of the depletion of nonrenewable resources, the acceleration of climate change, and the environmental pollution caused by ethylene production from fossil fuels.
Making Ethylene From Fossil Fuels Depletes Nonrenewable Resources
It takes millions of years and certain geological conditions to turn dead plants into fossil fuels like coal, gas, and oil. For example, petroleum began forming about 90-150 million years ago during the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods.
- Theoretically, more fossil fuels could be formed. Yet, with the current depletion rate, replacement is not realistically feasible.
- Consequently, fossil fuels are considered nonrenewable resources. Thus, depending on fossil fuels for making ethylene is not sustainable.
Making Ethylene From Fossil Fuels Requires Significant Amounts of Energy
Fossil fuels are formed deep in the crust of the Earth, at depths of about 7,500 feet in the case of petroleum, requiring heavy fuel-guzzling machines for extraction.
Also, refining fossil fuels, such as petroleum liquid or natural gas, and transforming ethylene are energy-intensive. The “cracking” process involves heating the system to extreme temperatures and cooling the products after cracking.
Transporting fossil fuels from often far-flung extraction sites, by trucks, ships, tankers, and/or pipelines, to refining and manufacturing facilities is another source of energy usage.
Making Ethylene From Fossil Fuels Has High Carbon Footprint, Exacerbating The Climate Crisis
Ethylene production requires a lot of energy. When a higher share of energy is generated by fossil fuels, which is still the case in most industrial settings, high energy usage means elevated greenhouse gas emissions.
For example, the cradle-to-gate carbon emissions of producing 400,000 tonnes of ethylene from naphtha (petroleum) and ethane (natural gas) using natural gas as the main source of energy are 198 kg CO2-eq and 167 kg CO2-eq, respectively, according to a study.
Extracting and Refining Fossil Fuels (For Making Ethylene) Causes Pollution and Habitat Destruction
Drilling for oil and gas causes lasting environmental damage, especially when the oil and gas deposits lie under diverse and ecologically important areas, on land and at sea.
Major environmental impacts of oil and gas extraction are as following:
- Air and water pollution: Oil and gas operation releases harmful pollutants into the air and/or discharge dangerous chemicals into the sea.
- Habitat degradation and destruction: Building roads to reach drilling sites, pipelines for oil transportation and offshore oil rigs for exploration degrade and destroy wildlife habitats.
- Mass deaths of marine species: Oil spills and refinery chemical discharges kill marine mammals and fish in huge amounts.
- Other disruptions to wildlife: Noise and light pollution caused by drill activities cause stress and further disruption to wildlife animals.
It is important to note that renewable biomass, such as corn crops, can be used as a feedstock in ethylene production. Using biowaste or crops like corn avoids digging into the nonrenewable reserves of fossil fuels.
However, when the energy generated for production and fertilizers used for growing crops still comes from fossil fuels, the environmental impacts of corn-based ethylene are still relatively high, according to a study.
Where Are the Raw Materials for Polyester Fabrics Usually Sourced From
The world’s top producers of ethylene (2020) are as followings:
- The Netherlands
- South Korea
- The United Kingdom
- The United States
The manufacturing location, or more specifically, the energy structure at a manufacturing facility, is a significant factor for ethylene’s sustainability because this monomer’s production is energy-intensive.
According to Our World in Data, the shares of renewable energy in primary energy in major ethylene-producing nations vary significantly, with Germany having the highest percentage.
- The Netherlands: 12.37% renewable energy
- South Korea: 3.72% renewable energy
- The United Kingdom
- Japan: 11.46% renewable energy
- The United States: 10.66% renewable energy
- Germany: 19.45% renewable energy
- Singapore: 0.31% renewable energy
- Malaysia: 8.06% renewable energy
- Belgium: 9.34% renewable energy
- Italy: 18.36% renewable energy
- France: 13.68% renewable energy
Using renewable energy (solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass) would significantly reduce carbon emissions at this sourcing stage.
How Sustainable Is the Manufacturing of Polyester Fabrics
Manufacturing polyester fabrics is generally not sustainable. The process is energy-intensive, water-thirsty, and high-polluting. High energy demand could have serious knock-on ecological impacts when fossil fuels are the main energy sources at manufacturing locations.
How Sustainably Is Polyester Fabrics Generally Manufactured
The typical polyester fabric manufacturing process includes the following steps:
- Polymerization: Polymerization is a reaction technique using heat (a temperature of 302-410°F) and pressure to bind the raw ingredients together, creating polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics, which, at this point, have the consistency and color of honey.
These raw ingredients used in polymerization are:
- Ethylene glycol, which is made by breaking down ethylene using heating, cooling, pressure, water, and sometimes a catalyst
- Terephthalic acid (TPA)
- Dimethyl terephthalate (DMT)
- Drying: Long molten ribbons formed during polymerization are allowed to cool until they become brittle, then cut into chips.
- Melt spinning: Polymer chips are melted at 500-518°F to form a syrup-like solution. The solution is then fed through a spinneret to form fibers. The fibers are brought together to form a single strand. Chemicals may be added at this stage to make the fibers flame retardant, antistatic, or easier to dye.
- Stretching: The fibers are stretched to create uniformity, increasing strength and tenacity.
- Loading: The yarn is loaded into bobbins, ready to be used for garment making
- Weaving or knitting: The final step to creating polyester textile products, from coats to carpets and many other household items.
Let’s now deep dive into a few key sustainable issues of this life-cycle stage.
Manufacturing Polyester Fabrics Is Energy-Intensive
Manufacturing polyester fabrics demand a lot of energy. Polymerization is an energy-intensive process. Additionally, machines such as spinning and weaving require fuel to operate.
According to a life-cycle assessment, manufacturing one kilogram of polyester fibers consumes 125MJ, which is higher than many common natural and semi-synthetic fibers. Specifically,
- The energy consumption of polyester fibers is almost 1.25 times higher than that of viscose.
- The energy consumption of polyester fibers is more than twice times higher than that of cotton.
- The energy consumption of polyester fibers is almost twice as high as wool.
On the other hand, polyester fiber production uses less energy than nylon and acrylic, also assessed in the same study.
High energy consumption leads to elevated global warming impact when manufacturing burns fossil fuels for energy.
Common Objective’s data shows polyester production emits 14.2 kg CO2 -eq (per kilogram produced).
Compared with natural fibers, the carbon footprint of polyester tends to be much higher. For example, a study by Stockholm Environment Institute found that polyester production in the US emitted as much as 5.6 times more than conventional cotton production in the US.
Manufacturing Polyester Fabrics Is High Polluting
The waste from polyester production includes dangerous substances like antimony, cobalt, manganese salts, sodium bromide, and titanium dioxide. Without proper wastewater treatment, such substances could be released into the environment, harming wildlife and humans.
Manufacturing Polyester Fabrics Has a High Water Footprint
A large amount of water is needed during polyester production for cooling after the heating processes. This could potentially affect groundwater levels and access to clean drinking water.
According to a life-cycle assessment, polyester fabric production has a relatively high climate change impact of about 27 kg CO2-eq (per kg of fabric).
This climate change impact is higher than PA6 (a synthetic fiber), cotton (a plant-based natural fiber), and silk (an animal-based natural fiber). However, it is lower than the climate change impact of the synthetic fiber acrylic, the semi-synthetic fiber viscose, and the natural fiber wool.
In another life-cycle assessment evaluating all the stages from the cradle to the grave, the production phase of a polyester T-shirt is the second-highest impact phase. This stage accounts for 30.85% of the energy use, 13.14% of total water use, and 12.99%of the global warming potential.
Where Are Polyester Fabrics Usually Manufactured
China is the world’s largest polyester fabric producer. Other major producers of polyester fabrics are Taiwan, Thailand, Poland, and India.
One of the main sustainability issues with these producers is the dependency on fossil fuels for energy generation. China is the only major polyester fabric producer with a renewable energy share above 10%.
Renewable energy (solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass) would significantly reduce carbon emissions at this manufacturing stage.
How Sustainable Is the Transportation of Polyester Fabrics
Transporting can be a carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of items made with polyester fabrics because of the emissions associated with transporting and delivering vehicles. Polyester fabrics typically travel from mines where fossil fuels were extracted to produce ethylene – the raw material for polyester- to processing factories, sorting centers, shops, and consumer’s houses before going to recycling centers or landfills.
In the life-cycle of polyester clothes, transportation typical occurs as below:
- From petroleum and natural gas mines where polyester’s raw materials are extracted to the ethylene and polyester fiber manufacturing locations
- From the polyester fabrics manufacturing location to the clothing manufacturing location
- From the clothing manufacturing location to sorting centers/physical shops
- From sorting centers/physical shops to the consumer’s house
- From the consumer’s house to the centers for recycling/ disposing
Traveling Distances of Polyester Fabrics Vary Depending on the Supply Chain
It is not uncommon for polyester fabrics to have their supply chain spreading globally, meaning that mining, refining, fiber and fabric processing, and finishing might happen in various towns, countries, or even continents. This supply chain is often very complex and almost impossible to trace.
Here are some scenarios for transporting polyester fabrics:
- Ethylene manufacturers source petroleum and/or gas mined in the Congo basin and produce the molecule in South Korea before selling it to polyester manufacturers to be turned into clothes in India. Polyester clothing and household items are shipped to the US to sell to consumers.
- Fossil fuels are mined in Alberta, Canada. Ethylene is made in the Netherlands and sold to companies in China to be turned into polyester clothes. These clothes are sold worldwide.
You can reduce the transporting carbon footprint by choosing polyester fabrics that travel shorter distances.
The Carbon Footprint of Transporting Polyester Fabrics Depends Largely on the Vehicle of Transportation
During its life-cycle, a piece of polyester clothing can be transported using various types of vehicles, including:
- Large container ships
- Freight trains
- Long-distance trucks
- Short-distance delivering vans
And these various types of transportation vehicles have different carbon footprint impacts:
- Large container ships are generally the most carbon-efficient option for the international transportation of goods, while planes are the heaviest carbon emitter.
Large container ships emit, per unit of weight and distance, half as much carbon dioxide as a train and one-fifth and one-fiftieth as much as a truck and a plane (respectively).
- Deliveries made by planes – for example, to fulfill fast shipping options for clothing – are the mode of transportation with the highest carbon footprint.
For example, as a consumer, you can choose not to pick the fast delivery option when ordering polyester clothing items and accessories to reduce the carbon footprint of your order.
How Sustainable Is the Usage of Polyester Fabrics
The usage of polyester fabrics is generally considered unsustainable because washing polyester clothes during the usage phase contributes to the increasingly serious problem of microplastic presence in marine environments. However, polyester fabrics can last a lifetime, eliminating the need for frequent replacement.
A major sustainability issue with using polyester fabrics is the microplastics released into the environment due to washing the material.
According to a study, polyester fabrics washed in domestic washing machines released about 490,000 tiny synthetic particles per wash. Plastic-based textiles, including polyester, nylon, acrylic, and others, are responsible for around half a million tons of plastic microfibers shed into the oceans annually as these fabrics are washed. At sea or in other water bodies, these microplastics cause harm to fishes that ingest them and numerous animals (including us humans) further up the food chain.
However, polyester fabrics are generally durable. The strength, resilience, and tenacity of the fibers formed during spinning mean that polyester is difficult to tear. Additionally, this material is resistant to damage from weather, mildew, and moths.
Durability increases the sustainability of a material because you don’t need to replace clothes made with such material too frequently (thus, no need for more resources to make the new one).
Also, polyester fabrics are wrinkle-resistant, saving energy for ironing during the usage phase. Ironing, together with washing and drying (the usage phase), accounts for a high share of energy consumption in the life cycle of clothing.
According to a life-cycle assessment of a polyester T-shirt, the usage phase accounts for the highest shares of the impacts during the whole cycle.
- A polyester t-shirt’s usage phase accounts for 65.5% of the life-cycle energy use (cradle-to-grave)
- A polyester t-shirt’s usage phase accounts for 86.71% of the life-cycle water use (cradle-to-grave)
- A polyester t-shirt’s usage phase accounts for 84.31% of the life-cycle global warming potential (cradle-to-grave)
As a consumer, you can reduce the environmental impact of your usage by maximizing the number of wears between washes, avoid unnecessary hot washes or machining drying. Also, the longer you use a piece of clothing, the lesser the environmental impact of each wear.
How Sustainable Is the End-of-Life of Polyester Fabrics
The end-of-life stage for the typical fossil-based polyester fabrics is not sustainable because they are not biodegradable.
Traditional fossil-based polyester is not biodegradable: this material could take up to 300 years to degrade completely.
In comparison, natural fibers such as wool or cotton are fully biodegradable. For example, cotton typically takes 11 weeks to decompose.
However, biodegradable polyesters can be created by adding organic compounds into the chemical mix used to form the fabric. This variety of polyester fabrics can decompose in 3 to 5 years instead.
Natural fibers like wool or cotton can also be composted to return nutrition to the soil, which is not the case with polyester.
According to a life-cycle assessment of a polyester t-shirt, the total life cycle has:
- a carbon footprint of 81.62 kg of CO2 eq
- a water footprint of 2,882 liters
- an energy footprint of 109 MJ
How Circular Are Products Made of Polyester Fabrics
In the textile industry, a circular economy is designed to keep products and materials in use for as long as possible, especially through reusing and recycling. It also covers regenerating natural systems that support the industry and reducing polluted waste released into such systems.
“The circular economy is a systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.”Ellen MacArthur Foundation
As a whole, the textile industry is almost linear: 97% of the input are new resource.
Recycling post-consumer polyester fabrics is a complicated and expensive process. It is more common for polyester fibers to be blended with cotton fibers than to be woven on their own to produce fabrics.
However, the technology for separating these poly-cotton blends and recycling constituent fibers currently requires much more energy than producing virgin polyester. Thus, in commercial settings, poly-cotton blends are most likely to be down-cycled for use as insulation and furniture stuffing. Yet, there are some innovative developments in this area.
Due to such difficulties, most recycled polyester fabrics are made with plastic bottles rather than discarded polyester fabrics.
How Can You Buy Polyester Fabrics More Sustainably
The key to sustainably buying polyester products is to check on relevant environmental and original certifications.
- OEKO-TEX®: OEKO-TEX® labels aim to ensure that products pose no risk to human health (i.e. containing banned chemicals).
- STeP by OEKO-TEX®: STeP by OEKO-TEX® is an independent certification system for brands, retailers, and manufacturers from the textile and leather industry. It communicates organizational environmental measures, including reducing carbon footprint and water usage.
- Recycled Claim Standard (RCS): The Textile Exchange RCS was originally developed as an international, voluntary standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled input and chain of custody. (For recycled polyester fibers)
- The Global Recycled Standard (GRS): The Global Recycled Standard (GRS) is an international, voluntary, full product standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled Content, chain of custody, social and environmental practices, and chemical restrictions. It can be used for any product with more than 20% recycled material. (For recycled polyester fibers)
Some certifications are signaling brands’ efforts toward lowered environmental impacts and a circular economy are:
- B Corp Certification: The label B Corp is a certification reserved for for-profit companies. Certified holders are assessed on their social and environmental impacts.
- Cradle2Cradle certification: Cradle2Cradle provides a standardized approach to material circularity. It assesses whether products have been suitably designed and made with the circular economy in mind covering five critical categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.
Where to Buy Sustainable Polyester Fabrics
We have established throughout the life-cycle assessment that polyester fabrics are generally unsustainable. The most significant reasons are:
- Manufacturing this synthetic material generally depends on fossil fuels for raw material and for process energy.
- Polyester fiber and fabric production use toxic chemicals, which could have adverse health impacts on exposure (for both factory workers and end users) and pollute the environment.
- Washing polyester fabrics releases microplastic into marine environments, causing harm to wildlife.
- Conventional fossil-based polyester fabrics are not biodegradable and, thus, take up space in landfills for a long time (i.e., centuries).
However, researchers and manufacturers have found ways to make polyester fabrics more sustainable, including:
- Recycling polyester fibers to reduce pressure on extracting more fossil fuels
- Using ethylene made from renewable biomass (instead of petroleum and natural gas) as raw materials for polyester fibers
- Manufacturing polyester fibers and fabrics in locations with high shares of renewable energy
- Making polyester fabrics biodegradable
As a consumer, you can look out for these indicators when buying polyester clothing and household items. To assist you with the efforts, we put together a small list of brands using a more sustainable variety of polyester fabrics (aka recycled polyester). This list is in alphabetic order.
Why Is It Important to Buy Products Made of More Sustainable Fabrics
It is important to buy products made of more sustainable fabrics because a sustainable textile industry has a lower carbon footprint, helps save natural resources, and is better for forests, animals, and humans.
Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces Your Carbon Footprint
The production of clothing and footwear is estimated to contribute 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than all international flights and shipping combined. If the fashion industry were a country, it would be the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
One way to reduce the carbon footprint of the clothes you buy is to opt for sustainable fabrics. Sustainable fabrics, which are often made with natural or recycled fibers, have relatively low carbon footprints compared to petroleum-based fabrics. For example, organic cotton made in the US has a carbon footprint of 2.35 kg CO2 (per ton of spun fiber) – a quarter of polyester’s carbon footprint.
Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces the Demand For Natural Resources and Waste Management
The textile industry uses water and land to grow cotton and other fibers. It is estimated that 79 billion cubic meters of water were used for the sector worldwide in 2015. For example, producing a single cotton t-shirt requires as much water as one person drinks for 2.5 years (2,700 liters of fresh water).
Worse yet, the textile economy is vastly more linear than circular: the largest amount of resources used in clothes ended up in landfill (instead of being recycled to remake clothes). According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation,
- Less than 3% of materials used in the textile economy in 2015 came from recycled sources.
- In other words, more than 97% of resources used in making clothes are extracted new.
When clothing items are disposed of within a short period of time – under a year in the case of half of the fast fashion clothes – the natural systems that provide raw materials for fabrics don’t have enough time to recover and regenerate, which could lead to ecological breakdown.
Sustainable fabrics are made with less water and emissions while lasting longer:
- Because they are durable, you don’t need to buy new clothes too often.
- Thus, you help reduce to pressure to extract more resources for making new items.
Similarly, making and consuming sustainable fabrics made with recycled materials reduces the demand for virgin materials while helping tackle waste management.
Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages the Sustainable Management of Forests
Sustainable plant-based fabrics are made with raw materials from forests and plantations that are sustainably managed, such as complying with FSC standards.
When you buy sustainable plant-based fabrics, you discourage unsustainable forestry practices like illegal logging. You can help reduce deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the effect of climate change.
Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Animals
The fashion industry is rife with animal mistreatment when it comes to making animal-based fabrics like cashmere or leather. Every year, billions of animals suffer and die for clothing and accessories.
Buying sustainable vegan alternatives can help to reduce the pressure on raising more and more animals to meet the demand for animal-based fabrics while sacrificing their well-being and lives.
Suppose you have to buy fabrics made with, for example, leather or wool; make sure you only choose brands committed to cruelty-free products. In that case, you help advocate better treatments for animals raised within the textile industry.
Using Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Textile Workers
Recent statistics from UNICEF estimated as many as 170 million child labors worldwide, many of whom were engaged in some form of work in the textile industry. They don’t get paid minimum wages and often work long hours.
When you buy sustainable fabrics from brands transparent about the working conditions at their factories, you discourage the use of child labor and help promote better working conditions for textile workers.
Polyester fabric is generally not a very sustainable material. Polyester fabric production is energy-intensive and high-polluting. Washing clothes made with polyester fabrics contribute to microplastic problems in marine environments. Also, conventional fossil-based polyester clothes aren’t biodegradable.
However, if you choose to buy clothes and household items made with polyester fabrics, the following can help it to be more sustainable:
- Buy second-hand, recycled, or upcycled polyester clothing and household items.
- While using polyester products, maximize the number of wear between washes, and keep the items as long as possible.
- At the end of polyester products, upcycle the material to extend its usage and arrange for it to be recycled or properly disposed of.
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- Impactful Ninja: How Sustainable Are Viscose Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis
- Impactful Ninja: How Sustainable Are Cotton Fabrics? All You Need to Know
- Impactful Ninja: How Sustainable Are Wool Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis
- Impactful Ninja: How Sustainable Are Acrylic Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis
- Common Objective: FIBERS & FABRICS | Fibre Briefing: Polyester
- OECOTEXTILES: ESTIMTING THE CARBON FOOTPRINT OF FABRIC
- Good On You: Material Guide: How Sustainable Is Polyester?
- Research Gate: Environmental Improvement Potential of textiles (IMPRO Textiles)
- Impactful Ninja: How Sustainable Are Silk Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis
- Research Gate: IOP Conference Series Earth and Environmental Science | Haode Evaluating the Life-cycle Environmental Impacts of Polyester Sports T-shirts
- OEC: Woven fabric polyester staple fibres, nes
- Time for Change: CO2 emissions for shipping of goods
- Science Direct: Management of Marine Plastic Debris| Prevention, Recycling, and Waste Management
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation: A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future
- FABRIC INSIGHT: UNEXPECTED SUSTAINABILITY: RECYCLED AND BIODEGRADABLE POLYESTER AND POLYAMIDE
- Springer Link: The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment | Statistical analysis of use-phase energy consumption of textile products
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation: THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY IN DETAIL
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation: A New Textiles Economy
- OEKO-TEX®: Home
- OEKO-TEX: Certification according to STeP by OEKO-TEX®
- Textile Exchange: The RCS and GRS are designed to boost the use of recycled materials.
- B Corp Certification: Home
- C2CCertified: Home
- Girlfriend Collective
- Mara Hoffman
- Organic Basics
- Good on You: Greenwashing Examples: 8 Notorious Fast Fashion Claims and Campaigns
- The Guardian: Pulp fabric: everything you need to know about lyocell
- European Parliament: The impact of textile production and waste on the environment (infographic)
- Science Direct: The challenge of “Depeche Mode” in the fashion industry – Does the industry have the capacity to become sustainable through circular economic principles, a scoping review
- Science Direct: Carbon Footprint of Textile and Clothing Products
- European Parliament: Environmental impact of the textile and clothing industry
- European Parliament: What if fashion were good for the planet?
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation: A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future
- McKinsey: Style that’s sustainable: A new fast-fashion formula
- Our World in Data: Deforestation and Forest Loss
- Peta: Animals Used For Clothing