In the fashion world unraveling a fabric's green credentials isn't easy, today I Knock Fashion will be briefing you about the fabric which in the post Second World War period, was considered a miracle fabric- Polyester. Today, polyester is the most common fabric in the fashion industry, but the problem is, polyester is made from non-renewable petroleum and its energy-intensive to produce, which leads us to the question of whether it's a part of sustainable fashion or not?
Almost an entire season of spring/Summer fashion has gone in vain, due to the outbreak of deadly novel Coronavirus. People out there are definitely believing this to be nature's message since past so many years humans were placing too much pressure on the natural world without considering its consequences. The fashion industry alone produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions and is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply. It’s hard to believe but 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year and now the time has come when in the fashion world sustainability has become a buzzword and turned a few heads. This call of Mother Nature has awakened us all and made us realize the importance to find clothing pieces we can be proud of. This blog aims to be informative about, "if polyester is sustainable or not?"
Polyester is a synthetic man-made fabric made from polyester fibers, these polyester fibers are manufactured from a category of polymers made from oil. Polyester is one of the strongest fabrics and qualities like this make it suitable for manufacturing apparel and home furnishing, it is knit or woven to make silk-like fabrics. By 2007 the fabric emerged as one of the most favorable fibers for fabric production – a decreased cotton production, as well as other natural fabrics, has to lead to polyester gaining unprecedented popularity in the fashion world. Polyester polymers are produced by mixing ethylene glycol (derived from petroleum) and terephthalic acid. The most common polyester for fiber purposes is polyethylene terephthalate(PET) which is used to produce plastic bottles.
The popular synthetic fabric- Polyester's polymer is made of petroleum, coal, air, and water and is a fabric that is used in association with other textiles to add certain qualities, such as resistance to wrinkling. It's also mixed with other fabrics to harden and give them strength. It dries and returns to its original shape quickly, although it is not a flawless fabric. Following are several major types of polyester used in the fashion industry and the world-
It is the most popular type of polyester used for fabrics in the fashion world. It's the same material that is used for making disposable water and soft drink bottles. To produce PET polyester, ethylene glycol is mixed with either terephthalic acid or methyl ester along with an antimony catalyst, it is a substance, produced primarily in China. The major perk of this material is that it can be recycled and leads to sustainable fashion.
This polyester uses a chemical combination called poly-1, 4-cyclohexylene-dimethylene terephthalate. It is not much popular like PET but it offers the fabric greater resilience and elasticity. It's mostly used in home furnishing for heavier textiles such as curtains and furniture coverings.
Various types of materials are used to create this form of polyester. It goes through a special process, called "spinning the yarns," and this process creates a polyester material. This category of polyester has a look more similar to naturally occurring fabrics than other types of polyester, although it's still synthetic.
It is speculated that the global polyester staple fiber market, which was valued at around US$ 23,400 million in 2015 is expected to reach US$ 42,400 million by 2024. The market for polyester staple fiber is expected to increase at a CAGR of 4.0% over the same period, in terms of volume. The consumption of polyester in India has anyway grown consistently over the last few years. From 830 million kg in the financial year 2012 to 894 million kg in the financial year 2016. The import of the fabric increased from 45 million kg to 100 million kg during the years 2012-2016, and the export increased from 176 million kg to 182 million kg during the same period.
Now with the outbreak of COVID-19, people, in the long run, will be adopting sustainable fashion but immediately post COVID the disposable income of consumers will increase the market for polyester as its cheap and lasts long.
How And Why Is Polyester Bad For The Environment?
In the past years, polyester has become ubiquitous in the fashion world because it is cheap and versatile, but the fabrics impact the environment significantly. As stated earlier the fabric is a synthetic petroleum-based fiber and is produced from a carbon-intensive non-renewable resource. Around 70 billion barrels of oil are used to produce polyester each year. The fabric polyester is not biodegradable in nature and persists in the eco-system even as it eventually breaks apart. It's said that synthetic fabrics are the major source of micro-plastic pollution in the ocean because around 1900 fibers can be washed off from one garment every time it's washed. It requires more than double the energy of conventional cotton to produce. The production process of polyester fabric uses harmful chemicals, including carcinogens, and if emitted to water and air untreated, can cause significant environmental damage. The major producers of polyester are countries such as China, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, and in these countries, environmental regulations are lax and air and water pollution are often discharged untreated, resulting in major pollution and harm to communities in the vicinity of manufacturing plants. Also, the fabric cannot be dyed using low impact and natural dyes.
Today polyester is the most widely used fabric in the fashion world, it's speculated that it accounts for roughly half of the fiber market overall and about 80% of all synthetic fibers. It first emerged in the 1970s and was considered a miracle fabric for its long-lasting, wrinkle-free, easy-to-clean qualities.
Today the world is struggling and finding new ways, the question going forward is what lessons have been learned from all of this and the pandemic. Going back to the fashion business, as usual, will not work. The fashion world will be switching to sustainability now, towards preferable materials that enable a more positive impact on people and the environment compared to conventional.
Recycled polyester is regarded as a preferred alternative to virgin polyester; bio-based polyesters- produced with renewable raw materials are in the early days but considered as a promising alternative. The question is how is recycled polyester produced?
Recycled polyester utilizes majorly plastic bottles, packaging, or textile waste as its raw material. At the end of its life, the recycled polyester can be further recycled through either mechanical or chemical processes. The "chain of custody" standards that track recycled polyesters through the supply chain, are the Recycled Claim Standard (RCS), Global Recycled Standard (GRS), and SCS Recycled Content Certification.￼￼
Around 49% of the world's clothing is made of polyester fabric and fashion forecasts show this to nearly double by 2030. The world has enough of polyester currently and now the fashion industry is finding ways to make it sustainable, recycled polyester is obtained by melting down existing plastic and re-spinning it into new polyester fiber. It takes five water bottles to yield enough fiber for one T-shirt. Following are the pros and cons of recycled polyester-
Keeps plastics from going to landfills and the ocean- Recycled polyester provides second life to a material that's not biodegradable and would otherwise end up in landfills or the ocean. It's speculated that around 8 million metric tons of plastics enter the ocean every year, on top of the estimated 150 million metric tons that currently circulate in marine environments.
Recycled polyester takes fewer resources to make - Recycled polyester requires 59% less energy compared to virgin polyester. The manufactures of recycled polyester, aim to reduce CO2 emissions by 32% in comparison to regular polyester. The recycled polyester can contribute to reducing the extraction of crude oil and natural gas from the Earth to make more plastic.
It has its own limitations- Many of those garments are not produced from polyester alone, but rather a blend of polyester and other materials. It makes it more difficult, if not impossible, to recycle them.
The recycling process of PET impacts the environment, too- The polyester chips generated by mechanical recycling can vary in color, making color consistency difficult to achieve. The inconsistency of dye uptake makes it hard to get good batch-to-batch color consistency and this can lead to high levels of re-dyeing, which requires high water, energy, and chemical use.
Difference Between Virgin And Recycled Polyester
IKF Desk (Conclusion)
As with mostly all sustainable materials, there comes both positives and negatives but going down a sustainable fashion route will always help reduce the impact the fashion industry is having on the environment. The polyester is not going to vanish anytime soon, but by choosing recycled polyester over virgin you can make a difference, after all, what matters is choosing quality over quantity as quality garments seem to shed less.
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