Polyester: the Plastic Giant [TEXTILE SERIES 2]
Polyester is durable, versatile, lightweight, resistant to wrinkles, stains, and sunlight — all these qualities make it the dream textile for the fashion industry, which is why it has become the most widely used fiber in the world. Unlike natural fibers, the manufacture of polyester is not reliant on land and relatively affordable, making it a readily available textile that fuels the fast fashion industry. But although it comes up so frequently in our clothing tags, few are aware of the high environmental costs polyester carries through production, use, and disposal.
Polyester is actually a kind of plastic, produced through a chemical reaction involving coal, petroleum, air, and water. Compared to cotton, polyester uses less water to produce, but requires more energy and emits nearly three times more CO2 than cotton. As is common for most textiles, the dyeing process poses a threat to local freshwater supplies as untreated wastewater is often discharged directly into the environment.
Attempts at Change
To address the large amounts of wastewater, Adidas launched DryDye technology in 2012, which dyes polyester without using water and with 50% fewer chemicals and 50% less energy than traditional dyeing processes. Water used in the process is substituted by dye injected into the fabric using compressed carbon dioxide, which is later gasified. This provides an alternative to polluting dyeing processes but still fails to address the production of polyester itself.