To gain a more in-depth understanding of the environmental impact of polyester, we spoke with Dr. Robert L. Simpson, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Arizona. Dr. Simpson explained that while polyester has some negative environmental impacts, it is not the worst material out there when it comes to sustainability.
“In terms of environmental impact, polyester is a mixed bag,” Dr. Simpson said. “On the one hand, it is made from petroleum, which is not renewable and has a significant carbon footprint. However, polyester has a much lower carbon footprint than many other materials, such as wool or silk. Additionally, the manufacturing process for polyester has improved significantly in recent years, and some manufacturers are using recycled materials or alternative processes that are more sustainable.”
Dr. Simpson also emphasized the importance of considering the entire lifecycle of a product when assessing its environmental impact. “When you’re looking at the environmental impact of a product, it’s important to look beyond just the manufacturing process,” he said. “Consider the energy and water required to maintain and care for the product over its lifetime, as well as its disposal.”
New research from the University of Portsmouth is aiming to counter the environmental devastation caused by polyester textiles. The university’s Centre for Enzyme Innovation is is aiming to develop an enzyme that can efficiently ‘eat’ polyester textiles and clothing.
Professor Andy Pickford, Director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation at the University of Portsmouth said: We want a system that uses plastic in the same way we use glass or tine cans – infinitely recycled. The ultimate aim is to close the loop – however, this requires not only the technology but also the will to do so.”
“Our research will establish the feasibility of using enzymes to deconstruct the PET in waste textiles into a soup of simple building blocks for conversion back into new polyesters, thus reducing the need to produce virgin PET from fossil-fuel based chemicals. This will enable a circular polyester textiles economy and ultimately reduce our dependence on taking oil and gas out of the ground.”
Finally, recent research has shown that polyester has a lower impact on the environment than previously believed. According to a study by researchers at the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, polyester has a lower impact on the environment than cotton or wool when considering the entire life cycle of the fiber. This means that the environmental impact of polyester must be viewed in the context of the entire production process and not solely on the raw materials used.