Lots of eco-warriors and environmentally conscious shoppers will tell you that polyester is the bad guy and if you are wanting to shop more sustainably, it should be avoided. In this blog we’ll take a closer look at this popular fabric, how it’s made and ask, is polyester really bad for the environment?
If you want to find out more about sustainability in fashion, shop our plus-size sustainable clothing edit or read our posts about environmentally conscious clothing brands and ethical plus-size clothing.
What is Polyester?
From tacky and cheap clothes to high end fashion you can literally find polyester everywhere.
The synthetic fabric was developed in the 1940s to massively increase clothing production and it’s still a hugely popular fabric today. In fact, a report from the Textile Exchange found that in 2018 polyester made up 52% of global fiber production at a whopping 55 metric tons. We can only imagine that that number has gone up ever since as fast fashion and activewear have really taken off.
Polyester is used a lot by brands, especially in plus-size clothing, because it’s an affordable fabric that's readily available.
How is it made?
Ok here comes the nerdy part.
Polyester a.k.a. polyethylene terephthalate or PET plastic is a synthetic fabric that is made from petrochemicals. It’s made through a chemical reaction between ethylene glycol and therephthalic acid (both derived from fossil fuels, air and water.) This is first molded into filaments before being woven into fabric.
Production also uses up a ton of energy.
Pros and Cons of Wearing Polyester
Take a quick peek in your closet and you’ll probably find that a lot of your clothes are made using polyester, even if it’s just a little bit. That’s because polyester is one of the most commonly used fabrics in plus-size.
We mentioned earlier why the fashion industry loves to use polyester but why do we love to wear it?
One of the top reasons why polyester is so great is that it holds its shape and doesn’t shrink or fade. Another win is that it doesn’t crease easily - great news if you are not a fan of ironing - a.k.a. everyone.
The stretchy and resistant fabric is also a fave in athleisure and activewear as it is moisture-wicking. This means that it draws sweat away from the body and absorbs it, keeping you cool and dry.
However as polyester is synthetic, that means that it is not biodegradable and is also not breathable.
Other concerns about polyester is that it can hold onto odors so after a few wears you might find that your workout gear starts to smell a bit funky. It also can cause static electricity and pilling (where loose threads break free from the thread weave and stick to your clothes).
And probably the biggest one; it’s environmental impact - even after it’s been made.
Everytime you wash an item made from plastic based materials like polyester it releases microplastics into our waterways. In fact, 35% of all microplastics in the ocean come from clothes and textiles.
What is deadstock fabric?
Extra, leftover or spare fabrics in the fashion industry are often known as deadstock. These normally have a one way ticket to landfill but to reduce waste sustainable brands like Altar ( find them right here on Insyze) use up these fabrics to make brand new clothes.
Stay Warm In Style is another brand that uses deadstock materials. They buy any unused stock directly from manufacturers and factories and make them available to us rather than landfill.
Can Polyester be Recycled?
Yes it can, new technologies have meant that polyester fabric or other PET items like plastic water bottles can be recycled.
This process is less energy heavy than the first production round and oftens stops or at least delays the plastic going into landfill. For even more of an eco-win, look out for recycled polyester that is made using a closed-loop system.