Wearing Synthetic Fabrics More Sustainably

Wearing Synthetic Fabrics More Sustainably

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When you’re searching for materials with the bottom influence on the surroundings, natural fibers nearly all the time come out forward of synthetics. With an enormous carbon footprint and infrequently coated in poisonous chemical compounds, synthetics are finest averted. But generally there aren’t nice alternate options to synthetics, significantly for particular purposes like raingear or athletic put on. Maybe you’ll be able to’t dwell with out your Gore-Tex jacket or your stretchy yoga pants. But you’ll be able to reduce their impacts.

Synthetic Fabrics

There are a number of different kinds of synthetics – polyester, acrylic, nylon, and a number of proprietary model names. But all of them have one factor in frequent. Synthetic materials are all, in the end, made out of oil, identical to plastic. And like plastic, they’re technically recyclable however often find yourself within the landfill or incinerator. We throw away 40 million tons of textiles yearly – lots of them by no means worn. Each 12 months, 39,000 tons of unsold garments from Europe and the United States find yourself in Chilean landfills. People discard roughly a quarter of the garments they purchase with out ever sporting them.

Petrochemical-based synthetics make up 65% of all fibers produced yearly, with polyester by far probably the most broadly used artificial material. Despite the intense environmental impacts of cotton manufacturing, a T-shirt comprised of cotton produces 2.1 kg CO2-eq emissions whereas a polyester T-shirt emits an estimated 5.5 kg CO2-eq.

Polyester Pollution

Besides local weather emissions, artificial materials additionally contribute to plastic air pollution. Washing garments breaks off tiny microfibers – that’s what makes the lint in your dryer lure. The lint from artificial garments turns into particles of microplastic, which enter wastewater from the washer and ultimately make their method to the ocean.

Both pure and artificial fibers are sometimes coated with chemical compounds that enhance efficiency. PFAS defend clothes from stains and contribute to waterproofing however are related to severe elevated health risks. Waterproofing remedies like Gore-Tex are comprised of petrochemicals, often polyurethane, and infrequently include PFAS as properly. These endlessly chemical compounds can enter the surroundings when garments are washed and when they’re discarded.

Buy Recycled

One of probably the most sustainable methods to put on artificial materials is to purchase them second-hand. Thrift retailer athletic put on will not be interesting – and even nonetheless purposeful – however luckily, some activewear manufacturers are utilizing recycled fibers. Brands like Recover make T-shirts and fleece from recycled PET, the identical plastic as beverage containers. Girlfriend Collective even makes use of recycled PET to make efficiency put on like leggings and sports activities bras. Surprisingly, even some mainstream manufacturers like Reformation are utilizing recycled plastics for his or her activewear strains; Ref Active material makes use of 45% much less power, 20% much less water, and 30% much less GHG emissions than virgin polyester.

There are two certification systems for recycled polyesters. Recycled Claim Standard (RCS) certification requires a minimal of 5% recycled content material. The Global Recycle Standard (GRS) requires a minimal of 20% recycled content material, with at the least 50% recycled content material to make use of the GRS emblem.

Most of Patagonia’s nylon products use a 50/50 mix of virgin and recycled nylon from salvaged fishing nets. Various producers are utilizing Econyl, recycled nylon, to make all the pieces from chairs to bathing fits.

Hikers in waterproof coats
Waterproofing remedies like Gore-Tex are comprised of petrochemicals, often polyurethane, and infrequently include PFAS as properly. The firm lately launched a brand new waterproof material with out PFAS. Image: Maël BALLAND

Safer Synthetics

Many Gore-Tex merchandise nonetheless include PFAS. But in 2022, Gore-Tex launched a new waterproof fabric utilized in some product strains that replaces PFAS with expanded polyethylene (ePE). Gore-Tex may also be recycled into new merchandise, because the Norrona model does. Although paraffin wax can be a petroleum product, it’s one other efficient waterproofing materials that has been proven to be safer than PFAS. Look for textile certifications reminiscent of Bluesign and Oeko-Tex, which point out {that a} product was made with solely safer supplies and coverings.

Eventually, you could possibly discover clothes comprised of natural synthetics – that’s, polyesters comprised of plant-based resources as an alternative of crude oil. These biopolyesters are largely within the early stages of growth, so that you received’t discover plant-based polyester garments on the mall anytime quickly. But the expertise is promising, so it’s price conserving a watch out for alternatives to assist revolutionary firms after they do convey biopolyester merchandise to market.


Purchasing fewer gadgets and sustaining them longer is one other method to reduce the influence of your artificial garments. You can reduce microfiber pollution by utilizing cooler, faster laundry cycles and hanging garments to dry. Installing a microfiber filter, or upgrading to a brand new washer with a microfiber filter, will seize many of the microfibers that your laundry generates.

Waterproof supplies require particular care. Conventional detergents can hurt waterproof efficiency. When rain gear wants laundering, use a specialised cleaner to guard the coating, and apply protecting remedies like PFAS-free Nikwax to increase the lifetime of the garment.