Polyester is cheap and readily avaliable in the fashion industry, it does how ever come with a larger price tag than is initially obvious.
Polyester is wrinkle free, it does not need to be iron or pressed to maintain its shape and surface. Polyester fabric is easy to wash and quick to dry which is useful for regions that have particularly cold or wet weather. High quality polyester will last well, however the vast majority of polyester on the market is of poor quality and will not last more than a few wears as it sheds a large amount of fibres every time it is washed. It is mainly used by manufacturers because it is a cheap alternative to natural fibres. Polyester is a very common fabric within fast fashion which has very little to no regard for the environment and their impact upon it.
Polyester is a synthetic petroleum based fibre, it is therefore made from a carbon-intensive non-renewable energy resource. Petroleum products are used to make the fibre and also used to generate all the energy required for its manufacture. To meet the worlds demand for this fabric we use around 70 million barrels of oil each year. It takes around 200 years for polyester to break down in the environment and even then it only breaks down into micro plastic which persists in the eco-system for an unknown time period. it is said that synthetic garments are the biggest source of micro plastic pollution in the oceans because one wash of a polyester garment can remove up to 1,900 fibres which are transported directly into the water system and eventually into the ocean.
Although polyester is less energy intensive than nylon to produce it still requires more than double the energy of conventional cotton. The production of polyester uses harmful chemicals, including those that are known carcinogens, and if put into the water and air untreated they are incredibly damaging to the surrounding environment causing significant damage.
The majority of polyester is produced in countries such as China, Bangladesh and Indonesia where environmental regulations are particularly poor allowing unscrupulous companies to flaunt regulations and pollute the environment. Untreated pollution is often discharged into waterways and released into the atmosphere causing incredible damage to the communities, peoples health, and the surrounding natural environment. The production of polyester uses less water than that of natural fibres, however polyester cannot be dyed using low impact and natural dyes. This leads to potential impact much more detrimental than that of natural fibres.
One of the most positive features that come from polyester is that is it completely recyclable and it is also possible to use recycled plastics (PET) to create it. This means we can use existing plastics already created with out having to use virgin petroleum stocks. There are many new companies that are recycling plastics to make polyester fabrics suitable for swimwear and sportswear. Some companies have even taken to recycling existing polyester clothing to create new polyester.
Polyester is a big offender in terms of the environmental impact created. Cheap polyester has to be the worst when it comes to the cost of fast fashion but it if polyester finds its way into your wardrobe make sure it comes from recycled polyester or recycled plastics to reduce its impact. Try to avoid its use in T-shirts and general day to day clothing but it can be suitable in rain wear, sportswear, and ski wear. When it comes to getting rid of your polyester clothing make sure to source a recycling centre that excepts them or donate them to charity.