Cotton v/s Polyester – Is Polyester More Sustainable Than Cotton?

When it’s about sustainability, the polyester-cotton debate is a never-ending one. Some people are of the opinion that polyester is more sustainable than cotton. But is it true?

To get some reliable information on the matter, you have come to the right place as this blog attempts to give you a better insight into both fabrics.

How Cotton Is Processed

Cotton fibers are derived from annual plants and comprise pure cellulose. They have a hollow hole (referred to as lumen) in the middle that runs the length of the fiber. The light collapses when the pouch opens and the fiber dries in the sun. This particular action causes the fiber to twist and form coils.

Characteristics Of Cotton

It’s comfortable, breathable, natural, soft, and hypoallergenic. In non-woven personal care products, all these properties make cotton the natural fiber of choice. In the age of environmental concern, cotton manages to retain its significance and popularity as it’s both biodegradable and sustainable.

What Does Polyester Consist Of?

Polyethylene terephthalate or polyester is a chemical reaction involving water, air, or crude oil. The continuous filaments, also known as tow, can be cut to any length to generate staple fibers for use in non-woven and woven materials or can be left as fibrous continuous thread.

Characteristics Of Polyester

It’s a water-repellent material and because of this reason, polyester materials don’t soak sweat or other liquids, therefore leaving the wearer dry and cool. Polyester is more long-lasting and has a higher stretch capacity when compared to cotton. Some eco-conscious buyers refuse to invest in this fabric as it’s a synthetic fiber obtained from petroleum products. Polyester is generally not considered biodegradable or durable.

How Sustainable Is Polyester?

This fabric wasn’t always there. There was a time when people just used to dress in materials of animal and plant origin, like cotton, linen, and wool. These accounted for more than 80% of the fibers consumed at the end of World War 2. In the 1940s, the development of chemistry led to synthetic fibers and the situation turned in favor of faster and cheaper techniques of textile production. Polyester these days rules the clothing industry with an annual production of over 52 million tons all around the world.

Polyester materials are generally dirt-repellant and this is because a special kind of dye is needed to effectively color polyester. Also known as disperse dyes, these dyes are insoluble in water. They, just like polyester, comprise a complicated molecular structure that doesn’t break down easily. Textile mill liquid waste or sewage comprising dye residues is hard to treat and when they are released into the environment, its toxicity leads to serious issues for local fauna and flora.