Can polyester be sustainable?

Anne Katrine is the founder of Sustainacompany/Sustainawear/Sustainalifestyle and is writing here about sustainability in fashion as our guest author.

Anne Katrine guides us through the jungle of sustainable materials and tells us about the pros and cons of polyester.

Welcome to the jungle

Do you know that song?

I have Axl Rose’s distinctive voice in my ear and suppress the urge to be headbanging. But I am currently on a train, so that would be quite inappropriate. 

Instead, I will be describing the jungle of sustainable materials, and oh my, what a jungle it is. 

It looks like, no matter what we choose, nothing will ever be good enough, because all materials have their pros and cons. I will focus on polyester here and discuss the good and the bad of this fiber. 

But before I do that, you might want to know more about this woman who likes to listen to Guns N’ Roses on trains. 

My name is Anne and apart from being completely stuck in the ‘80s when it comes to music, I am quite up to date on sustainability in the fashion industry. I have worked with fashion and sustainability since 2006 and now help companies implement sustainable models and materials. 

But, let’s not get sidetracked.

Do you know how polyester is made?

It derives from oil. With the help of chemicals, plastic chips are made. They are then melted and spun into thread – a polyester thread. The thread is woven or knitted into a fabric, then dyed and eventually made into a garment This is simplified, but you get the picture, right?

Polyester is plastic

This is the reason why we can take used plastic bottles (PET bottles, to be exact), melt them and spin them into thread, weave it, dye it and make clothes out of it. This is again overly simplified, but if you are interested in the science behind it, there are sites online that do a great job explaining it in detail.

REPREVE® is a brand that specializes in producing polyester fabric from PET bottles and has even made the material traceable through small chips that are woven into the garment, so you can always scan the material and be certain that it has in fact been made of recycled plastic bottles. This is also useful if you intend to recycle a garment made from this material, because you will be able to trace the fiber content and will know how to recycle it based on that. 

Polyester is actually quite simple to recycle. Well, you cannot just melt your t-shirt and make a new one; it’s not that simple. But compared to cotton or viscose fibers, anything made of 100% polyester makes the recycling process a lot easier. 

A lot of people like and wear polyester for their workout clothes, because it’s got great moisture-wicking properties. Polyester used to be not breathable at all, but a lot of innovation has happened, so today it is one of the most intelligent fibers we have.

Read more

So wearing plastic is actually great?

Well, it does have advantages. If it is made from reused plastic bottles, these are not going to go to waste. It is recyclable, meaning that as long as it is 100% polyester, it can be recycled into polyester again. It is an intelligent material with a lot of possibilities – also in regards to sustainability. 

But – there is always a butt in the end (pun intended): It is still a synthetic fiber made of plastic. The trouble with that is that it will shed a certain amount of microplastic when it is washed. This microplastic will get into the sewer system and eventually end up in the environment.

So if you own any garments that are made of polyester, you should wash them in a special bag (such as the Guppyfriend wash bag) that will collect microplastic. Or you could invest in a high-end washing machine with a filter that catches microplastics. 

So, as you can see, there are pros and cons to polyester as a material. But there’s one thing you can do, which is only buying recycled polyester – you’ll find it in products like the Essential Pants, the Essential Overshirt or the Essential Suit.

Learn more about SHAPING NEW TOMORROW’s sustainability initiatives here.

So let the jungle be the jungle

But make sure you have full knowledge of all the trees, animals and plants inside it, so we can take good care of it all. Knowledge and education are the answer to most issues out there – and you’ve taken the first step by reading this. And maybe you’ve even learned something?