It would seem that buying clothing made of natural fibers, like cotton, are better for the environment than buying clothing made of man-made materials like polyester. But that’s not exactly true. Here is a rundown of how the most common clothing materials affect our environment:
Polyester, the most commonly used manufactured fiber, is made from petroleum in an energy-intensive process that emits organic compounds (VOCs) and acid gases into the air. The process also uses a large amount of water.
Nylon emits nitrous oxide during its manufacture. Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas with a carbon footprint 310 times that of carbon dioxide.
Rayon (viscose), derived from wood pulp, often relies on clearing old growth forests to make way for water-hungry eucalyptus trees, from which the fiber is harvested.
Cotton, the most common clothing material, is the most pesticide-dependent crop in the world. It takes one-third of a pound of pesticides to make one t-shirt. In addition, the chemicals used to manufacture cotton remain in the fabric and are released throughout the lifetime of the garment. If the cotton is genetically modified, there are even more environmental issues.
Leather‘s dying and tanning process releases chemicals into the water supply, not to mention the animal rights issued associated with its manufacture.
PVC, which has become a commonly used material, is derived from chlorine. The manufacture of chlorine is incredibly toxic to wildlife, humans and the ecosystem.
Polyester, nylon and PVC are non-biodegradable, so they’re unsustainable on two counts.
Read labels. The best choices are organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, linen, and organic wool . If you’re just crazy about polyester, though, don’t despair: recycled polyester is also a green choice. And of course if you choose vintage over new clothing, you’re doing the best thing possible for the environment, regardless of the item’s fabrication.