If your clothes aren’t already made out of plastic, they will be
Updated: Mar 23, 2020
source : Quartz (qz.com)
Polyester has been a fixture in our closets since 1951. That’s when the first polyester suits, made from fabric created not by a textile mill but by the American chemical company DuPont, went on sale.
It has come a long way since. Today, polyester is no longer the ugly, uncomfortable material of awful 1970s double-knit leisure suits, the kind that necessitated a marketing campaign to rehabilitate the fabric’s image.
Nowadays, polyester is easy to miss unless you check fabric tags rigorously. It’s already ubiquitous in our most basic garments, such as t-shirts, dresses, and jeans, while calling almost no attention to itself—and that’s the point. It has become essentially invisible, even as it rapidly takes over our wardrobes.
As production of cotton, the world’s most popular natural fiber, has plateaued, polyester has stepped in to fill the void. Because it’s inexpensive, easy to blend with other materials, remarkably improved in its look and feel, and no worse for the environment than conventionally grown cotton, it has allowed us to keep churning out more and more cheap clothes without a hiccup.
That basically means that our clothes are increasingly made of plastic. Polyester is a polymer, or a long chain of repeating molecular units. The most common variety is polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, a plastic derived from crude oil that’s used to make soda and ketchup bottles. When melted, it has the consistency of cold honey, and if you squeeze it through a spinneret, kind of like the shower head in your bathroom, you get long, continuous filaments. Draw those filaments out into thin fibers, weave lots of those fibers together, and you have a fabric.
In the last few decades, production of the material has surged. Between 1980 and 2007, the year polyester definitively overtook cotton as the world’s dominant fiber, the amount of polyester produced annually increased from 5.3 million tonnes (5.8 million tons) to 30.9 million tonnes (34 million tons), according to Tecnon Orbichem. By 2025, that number is projected to nearly triple, to 90.5 million tonnes (99.8 million tons).
Ecologically speaking, polyester is no worse—and maybe better—than conventional cotton.
Polyester, uses very little water, and while producing it involves some toxic chemicals, those generally aren’t released into the environment. It can also be made from old plastic bottles, allowing companies to essentially turn garbage into clothing.
The clothes we produce just won’t be made of fibers grown on a plant or animal. They’ll be plastic.
At Nara Loca Abadi, we promote the use of recycled PET flakes as raw material for polyester manufacturers around the world.