Polyester is a synthetic polymer made from a type of plastic called polyethylene terephthalate (PET). It is one of the most commonly used synthetic fibres in the textile industry and is used in a wide range of clothing and other textile products, including shirts, pants, dresses, jackets, and bedding.

Polyester is often produced from petrochemicals derived from crude oil or from natural gas, both of which are non-renewable resources. Toxins are released in its production process, which can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts.

Why is polyester production unsustainable?

The production of polyester is often widely criticised for its environmental, social, and economic impacts, as well as the availability of more sustainable alternatives.

  1. Non-renewable resources: Polyester is typically produced from petroleum or natural gas, which are non-renewable. The extraction and processing of these resources have negative environmental impacts, including air and water pollution and habitat destruction.
  2. Energy-intensive production: The production of polyester requires a significant amount of energy, primarily through the combustion of fossil fuels or generated into electricity from other non renewable resources such as coal and natural gas. This contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
  3. Chemical pollution: The production of polyester involves the use of various chemicals, including solvents, dyes, and finishing agents, which can be toxic and pollute the air and water.
  4. Waste generation: The production of polyester generates waste, including hazardous waste from chemical processing and textile scrap. This waste can contribute to pollution and take up space in landfills.
  5. Impacts on biodiversity: The extraction and processing of crude oil used as a feedstock for polyester can lead to habitat destruction and biodiversity loss.
  6. Lack of circularity: Polyester production is unsustainable, partly because of the lack of circularity in the production process. Typically, polyester is produced through a linear process, meaning it is designed to produce a product through virgin materials for single use to be discarded at the end of its life. This leads to waste and environmental impacts. In contrast, a circular production process for polyester would involve recycling or repurposing discarded polyester products to create new products. This would reduce waste and resource depletion and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
  7. Social and labor issues: To lower the costs even further, polyester production is often associate with unfair labor treatment, including workers receiving low wages, having long working hours, and being offered poor and unhealthy working conditions, typically in countries where labor laws are less strict or weakly enforced. This poses a threat to the health and wellbeing of the workers.

Overall, the production of polyester can have significant environmental and socioeconomic impacts,
including contributing to climate change, unfair working conditions, polluting the air and water, and generating waste. 

However, it is important to note that there are sustainable alternatives to traditional polyester, such as recycled polyester made from post consumer PET bottles, or natural fibres like organic cotton, hemp, or linen. Additionally, advancements in production technology and materials science are leading to the development of more sustainable polyester alternatives. Check out our article about recycled polyester

What is Microplastic and how is it related to Polyester?

Microplastic is a small plastic particle that is less than 5 millimetres in size. They are formed from the breakdown of larger plastic materials, such as bottles, bags, and clothing fibers. These particles can accumulate in the environment and have negative impacts on wildlife and human health.

Polyester is one of the major sources of microplastic pollution. When synthetic textiles such as polyester are washed, small plastic fibres are shed that enter the wastewater system. These microfibers pass through wastewater treatment plants and end up in rivers, lakes, and oceans, where they are ingested by marine life and accumulate in the food chain.

Studies have shown that microplastics can have negative impacts on marine life, including causing physical harm and affecting reproductive success. Additionally, microplastics can absorb toxic chemicals from the environment and potentially transfer these chemicals to animals and people that consume them.

While polyester is not the only source of microplastic pollution, it is a significant contributor due to its widespread use in clothing and textiles. Consumers and manufacturers need to be aware of the issue of microplastic pollution and take steps to reduce its impact, such as using laundry bags designed to capture microfibers, washing clothes less frequently, and exploring alternative materials that are less likely to shed microfibers.

What about Polyester and smelling bad?

Polyester is a synthetic fabric that is not very breathable by nature, meaning it does not allow air to circulate easily through the fabric. This can trap sweat and bacteria against the skin, leading to unpleasant odours. When we sweat, our bodies release moisture and bacteria that thrive in warm and moist environments. If the sweat is trapped between the skin and the clothing, bacteria multiply and produce unpleasant odours. Additionally, polyester fibres are hydrophobic, meaning they repel water, so they do not absorb sweat and moisture the way natural fibres such as cotton or wool do. Read more in our comparison between polyester and merino wool

How can you make a more Sustainable choice?

Overall, producing and using clothes from natural materials rather than synthetic is considered more sustainable because natural clothes are sourced from renewable resources, biodegradable, have a lower carbon footprint, and are generally healthier for both humans and the environment. However, it is important to note that not all natural materials are sustainable, and some synthetic materials can be produced sustainably. It is important to consider the environmental impact of any material and make informed choices about which materials to use or consume.

Why do we choose Merino Wool as our Material?

We set out to design clothing that both performs better than what exists on the market and that is a better choice for the wellbeing of our planet in the long term. It thus came natural for us to choose ethically sourced merino wool as the material for our polo shirts. The performance is amazing and the sustainable edge to its production makes us sleep better at night. Read more about Merino and why it's our choice.

  • Also, read about: What's the Science behind Merino Wool? Click here
  • What is Organic Merino Wool? Click here

Or simply just go to the Material Knowledge Hub for all material related research