Materials matter, and the clothes you choose to wear make a difference.
We’re talking hundreds of gallons of water type of difference, and that’s with just one t-shirt.
A few weeks ago we discussed the fast fashion industry and its impacts on the environment. We talked about solutions such as buying less, recycling clothing and opting to thrift. We also talked about choosing clothing sourced from sustainable materials.
But what does that really even mean? Why are some materials more sustainable than others, and how can we measure that?
In the promotional products industry we come across a lot of polyester and cotton. In the sustainable niche of the promo industry that we are leading, we opt for their better. counterparts, rPET and organic cotton.
Let’s break down the environmental impact of these materials.
Polyester vs. rPET
According to Textile Exchange, polyester makes up about half of the world’s clothing and 55 million metric tons are produced annually. Made from petroleum, polyester (or polyethylene terephthalate), is essentially plastic. Cheap and easy to make, polyester has helped to drive the increased fashion production that we see today.
The result, you might ask?
Among many other consequences, polyester reinforces a dependence on fossil fuels by increasing demand in a sector we simply must transition out of in the coming years. If this alone wasn’t enough, polyester also sheds microplastics into the air and into our waterways, contaminating our streams, rivers and oceans, and causing harm to wildlife and humans alike.
rPET, which has increased in popularity in recent years, has evolved as an effort to create a more circular economy and avoid the pollution and waste that is a product of polyester. The “r” standing for recycled, rPET is simply recycled plastic.
Made from water bottles, fishing nets, and textile waste, rPET uses a whopping 79% less carbon throughout its lifecycle than its counterpart. Not only does rPET divert this waste into the creation of new clothing, but rPET also decreases the need for more petroleum to fuel the textile industry.
That being said…even rPET is a finite product. While it extends the lifecycle of materials, polyester that is mechanically recycled loses a significant amount of fabric each time. rPET is also not exempt from releasing microfibers, and everytime a piece of clothing is washed, microfibers wash away with it, entering the Earth never to degrade.
When opting for rPET, it might be helpful to ask yourself the following questions to make sure you are making the most conscious decision possible:
Is the clothing made with natural or synthetic dyes?
While rPET is leaps and bounds better than traditional polyester, some of this impact can be diminished by companies that are choosing to use synthetic dyes on their clothing, which we know is the second largest polluter of our waters across the world. Natural dyes, on the other hand, are free from these harmful chemicals.
Is this brand taking other steps to be environmentally friendly?
Opting for rPET is a great way for a brand to protect the planet, but it shouldn’t be their only measure for environmental impact. Look into how they are addressing their carbon footprint and other actions they are taking for the planet.
Cotton vs. Organic Cotton
If you guessed that it takes 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton shirt, you would be correct. Yikes, I know. Part of this has to do with the fact that 53% of regular cotton is irrigated. Much of this diversion of water has detrimental impacts to its surrounding environment, including places such as the Aral Sea in Central Asia, the Indus Delta in Pakistan and the Murray Darling River in Australia. This is all of course happening in a climate where water scarcity is more prevalent than ever.
Cotton is also notorious for degrading and depleting soil, one of our most important carbon sinks. Perhaps more than anything else, cotton is known for its harmful chemicals that threaten ecosystems and have serious health implications for farmers. But, there is a better. option.
In contrast to regular cotton, organic cotton is between 70-80% rain-fed, and prohibits chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides, protecting water sources and land from pollution. Organic cotton also uses crop rotation techniques and more intentional farming to prevent carbon from being released from the soil and into the atmosphere.
When purchasing cotton clothing, look for the following to determine its sustainability impact:
Check for a GOTS certification
Standing for Global Organic Textile Standard, this label ensures that the cotton you are purchasing falls under the scope of organic standards across the entire supply chain.
Look for an OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 certification
Similar to the GOTS certification, the OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certification certifies that an end product is free from harmful substances.
Check for Fairtrade certification
This label means that not only was your clothing produced free of chemicals and with the best farming practices, but it also ensures that farmers who produce cotton are paid a fair wage.
Making these small switches when you can is a big way to do better. for our planet. Connect with us to learn more about rPET and Organic Cotton and how we can make your brand better.