Climate change has become a global issue, taking priority in almost every country’s governmental policies. All this worrying is not without cause. In fact, geologists have proposed that we refer to the current age as the Anthropocene, a turning point where humanity began to significantly impact Earth’s ecosystems. This is a scary thought, especially when we hear more and more about our unsustainable use of the planet’s resources. Well, as Lady Macbeth would put it, what’s done is done.
The threat is real: according to NASA, there is more than 95% chance that global warming is a result of human activity on the planet. Earlier, it was possible to assert that climate change is a hoax, but scientific evidence keeps coming through proving that the opposite is true. Humanity is on the brink of a mass-scale natural disaster if we don’t change our ways. On a planet with finite resources, we must live sustainably.
The next question we should ask ourselves has to be this: what can we personally do to ensure things don’t go from bad to worse? And will our contribution even matter at all? If you’re anything like the average millennial, you would be glad to hear that the answer to both questions is yes.
One of the biggest results of unsustainable living is the extreme amount of plastic pollution we are creating. The biggest pollutant in the oceans today is plastic, which also happens to be non-biodegradable. Whenever you pick up a disposable plastic bottle from the store, several billion people do it alongside you. Combined, it adds up to over 380 million tons of plastic pollution in landfills every year! Aside from other environmental consequences, polyester uses up more than 342 million barrels of oil in manufacturing each year and takes over 200 years to decompose, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report.
To counter this excessive plastic waste, one option is recycling—and recycled polyester fits the bill perfectly. We understand that the word polyester might be off-putting on the surface. So why wear a recycled version of it at all? After all, it’s not a natural material and it is itself unsustainable for the planet.
Reusing PET Plastic Bottles
For one, recycled polyester is unlike any synthetic material you have seen before. Manufacturing virgin polyester from crude oil is a cumbersome process that is notorious for wasting water, being non-biodegradable, and causing health problems. On the other hand, recycled polyester is a ‘greener’ alternative that also feels better on the skin.
This special kind of polyester is made from PET plastic bottles, which would otherwise lie without degrading for centuries in landfills. First, the bottles are sterilized to rid them of any bacteria; then they are dried and crushed into tiny pieces ready for processing. Next, they are heated and passed through machines to create a wool-textured yarn, which is baled, dyed, and made into cloth.
Additionally, there is less water wastage in recycled fabric processing as compared to creating synthetic cloth from scratch.
Quality, Breathable Fabric
Virgin polyester is also notorious for being bulky, hot, and scratchy. Think of 70’s flicks where ugly prints were as much part of the problem. With recycled polyester, this problem is easily solved. Because the yarn is put through so many procedures, it takes on a light quality that makes for breathable material. Instead of bearing with a polyester shirt, you will actually enjoy its feel against your skin.
Reducing Use of Petroleum Products
If we move towards a sustainable alternative to synthetic fibers as a society, our problem of depleting natural sources can be solved. Polyester is created from crude oil, and once we stop using it, we will also be reducing the extraction of fossil fuels from the ground.
There will be less petroleum use and more recycled plastic.
Contentions against Recycled Polyester
The facts stated are convincing, but people are cynical and cautious about recycled polyester for various reasons. First off, they believe that since the material itself is non-biodegradable, we are wasting our time with it. They also worry that the toxic compounds released by single-use plastic could be carcinogenic, which is a real fear in a largely artificial world.
The plastic in the oceans isn’t all bottles— microplastic is notorious as the number one pollutant of the seas. It can be any piece of plastic less than 5mm in length, and it is extremely damaging to marine life. If you consume seafood, you are likely to have eaten plastic too.
Cynics argue that recycled polyester releases microplastic every time it is washed. But in fact, if the manufacturer ensures appropriate treatment of the material, it does not shed. We would suggest you buy from a brand that is truly committed to green living.
Some contenders also argue that since plastic bottles release toxic chemicals, the same must also be true from any cloth created from them. This is not true.
Firstly, PET stands for polyethylene terephthalate - a compound that is not disruptive towards the endocrine system in the same way as ortho-phthalates. Moreover, it takes more than a month of heating a plastic bottle at 150 degrees for the water inside to reach dangerous toxicity levels. For clothes made from PET, there is minimal toxicity risk.
If we continue to replace our synthetic fiber needs with sustainable fashion choices, such as recycled polyester, the market will likely cater to the demand. Whatever the consumer wants is what the industry will produce.
Using recycled and further recyclable clothing can be the first step to advancing as a species. We have one planet, and if we want to keep making scientific advancements and breakthrough discoveries, we must make sure it survives. And eco-friendly clothing is the way to do it.