Recycle Your Synthetic

“The case for recycling is strong. The bottom line is clear. Recycling requires a trivial amount of our time. Recycling saves money and reduces pollution. Recycling creates more jobs than landfilling or incineration. And a largely ignored but very important consideration, recycling reduces our need to dump our garbage in someone else’s backyard” – David Morris

Recycle Your Synthetic

Clothes made from organic cotton are more environment friendly than man-made fiber. Organic cotton is grown without the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides. It helps to improve the quality of land, prevent water contamination and conserve biodiversity.

Organic clothing will cause fewer allergies, reduced respiratory problems. Switching to organic cotton clothes makes a lot of sense. Why not take care of our health by wearing healthy clothes and care for planet earth too.

What do we do with our synthetic clothes? Industry likes synthetic and manufacturers a lot of it. Polyester is now the largest single fiber group within global textiles production, estimates being as high as 52%, taking over from cotton.

Synthetic fibers, such as nylon and polyester, are produced entirely from chemicals. Synthetic fibers are made from synthesized polymers or small molecules. The compounds that are used to make these fibers come from raw materials such as petroleum chemicals or petrochemicals.

Man-made petrochemical fibers restrict and suffocate the skin, our largest and most sensitive body organ, making it unable to breathe properly so as it can release toxins. Our skin is biggest eliminative organ in body.

Most synthetic fibers (approximately 70%) are made from polyester, and the polyester most often used in textiles is polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

The majority of the world’s PET production – about 60% – is used to make fibers for textiles; about 30% is used to make bottles.   It’s estimated that it takes about 104 million barrels of oil for PET production each year – that’s 70 million barrels just to produce the virgin polyester used in fabrics. That means most polyester – 70 million barrels worth –  is manufactured specifically to be made into fibers, not plastic bottles, as many people think.  Of the 30% of PET which is used to make bottles, only a tiny fraction is recycled into fibers.

Dr. Mark Browne, an ecologist and postdoctoral fellow at the National Center of Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California, has been studying plastic pollution and microfibers for 10 years now. He explains that every time a synthetic garment — one made of manmade rather than natural fibers — goes through the spin and rinse cycle in a washing machine, it sheds a large number of plastic fibers. Most washing machines don’t have filters to trap these miniscule microfibers, and neither do sewage plants that are responsible for removing contaminants. So every time the water drains from a washing machine, plastic filaments are swept through the sewers and eventually end up in the ocean.

In 2011, Browne published a paper in Environmental Science & Technology stating that a single synthetic garment can produce more than 1,900 fibers per wash. Fleeces seem to lose the largest number of filaments, but even sleek synthetic fabrics like nylon shed. When you think about how many times you wash a t-shirt or a pair of pants, the statistics become staggering.

Now switching to organic cotton is a good idea. Trashing synthetic clothes is not a good idea. We need to put synthetic clothes to recycle.

The importance of recycling textiles is increasingly being recognized. Over 80 billion garments are produced annually, worldwide. In 2010, about five percent of the U.S. municipal waste stream was textile scrap, totaling 13.1 million tons. The recovery rate for textiles is still only 15 percent. In Canada, for example, over $30 billion is spent on new clothing each year, translating to approximately 1.13 billion garments, and with an average growth rate of 5.16 percent per annum. On average, Canadians discard seven kilograms (over 15 lbs.) of clothing per capita each year. Textiles constitute five percent of municipal solid waste by weight.

What happens when polyester clothes are recycled? Polyester-based textiles, garments are shredded and then granulated, and processed into polyester chips. These are subsequently melted and used to create new fibers for use in new polyester fabrics. This might not sound like a great idea as it creates synthetic fabrics again but still better than throwing away polyester clothes and let them end up in landfills.

Idea is to wear polyester as less as possible by switching to organic cotton and donate or recycle the polyester and other synthetic clothes you have.

Recycling synthetic clothes (or any kind of textiles) offers the following environmental benefits:

  • Decreases landfill space requirements, bearing in mind that synthetic fiber products do not decompose
  • Avoided use of virgin fibers
  • Reduced consumption of energy and water
  • Pollution avoidance
  • Lessened demand for dyes.

Buy wise, buy less. Whatever you buy, make sure you use it enough. Once done, give it to someone who can reuse and appreciate. Don’t trash. Donate and recycle.


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