You might think you know which fabric is superior; you mayeven have debated the issue. But do you know which is better for theenvironment? The confusion lies in the fibre itself. Cotton is natural andpolyester is synthetic. Natural has become synonymous with green and clean. Socotton is better, right? Not entirely.

Let's be honest textiles are toxic to produce, energyconsuming and water intensive given the raw materials required to produce them.

Cotton can be replanted and is therefore renewable but thisdoesn't count for much if it is not grown sustainably. Cotton productioncontributes to an inconceivable amount of global pesticide and insecticide use.Organic cotton is fantastic in that does not use these but it is stillincredibly water intensive, often diverting water away from communities. Cottonirrigation is a major contributor in the depletion of the Aral Sea.

Polyester requires less water but is more energy intensiverequiring wood and oil to produce, thereby contributing to global warming fromharmful greenhouse gases. Polyester however, is 100% recyclable and in somecountries, like Japan, garment recycling is possible through recycling centres.This will hopefully be undertaken by many more countries, until perhapsrecycling our polyester clothes will become as commonplace as recycling otherpaper and plastic products. In addition to being recyclable, polyester fibresare now starting to be produced from post-consumer and post-industrial recycledmaterials.

Combining all these factors it is easy to assume that thereis no clear winner for the environment in terms of production and perhaps thereisn't. But a garment's ecological footprint does not end once it is produced.To derive a meaningful evaluation the life-cycle of the product must beassessed. For apparel this can include low-impact maintenance, as it is theenergy and water consumption expended over the lifetime of a garment that mustbe considered.

Polyester is more stain-resistant. It can be washed in coldwater and dries quickly. Cotton garments waste energy. They must be washed morefrequently as they are less stain-resistant, often require hot water to removestains and need to be tumble-dried to dry in a comparable time frame. Syntheticfabrics like polyester do not lose their shape like cotton and thereforeincrease their wear life, further reducing environmental impacts.

The nature of clothing and seasonal fashion means that thetextile industry is a major contributor of global warming. The industry needsto become eco-conscious and as with all solutions there needs to be amulti-pronged strategy. Until manufacturers and growers are required to factorin environmental costs, products that do less damage will cost more. It is upto us as consumers to dictate demand. The real challenge is not peopleswitching from natural fibres to synthetic ones as we have been wearingpolyester for decades now. The real challenge lies in convincing the consumerto pay for more ecologically sustainable clothing. Would you?

About the Author:

Art Activist is the owner of an ethical t-shirt design andprinting business. brand resistant is a business model for the future. Evolvingfrom social, environmental and political passion, we hope to use the power ofwords and images to effect change.

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