What is Polyester Fabric?
Polyester (polyethylene terephthalate or PET) is a synthetic, man-made fiber that is widely used in the apparel industry. It is obtained from a chemical reaction between petroleum, air, and water.
According to a 2020 report published by Textile Exchange,
polyester accounts for around 52% of the total volume of
fibers produced globally. Of the 57 million tons of polyester used each year, around 32 million tons are used in the apparel industry.
PET (polyethylene terephthalate) is a plastic that is derived from petrochemicals. When it is used in the form of textile, it is called polyester. Polyester is used in a range of garments and home furnishings, such as shirts, pants, dresses, curtains, and bedsheets. Polyester also has several industrial uses, such as ropes, carpets, air filters, and fishing nets.
Polyester fibers are durable and can handle abrasion. They are often resistant to stretching and shrinking and do not require special care. The hydrophobic nature of polyester makes it ideal for clothing that is to be used in damp environments. Polyester is compatible with a variety of fibers to form blends, such as poly-cotton and poly-wool.
Characteristics of Polyester Fabric
Disadvantages of Polyester Fabric
According to A New Textiles Economy Report 2017, it takes
around 342 million barrels of oil every year to produce plastic-based fibers for textiles.
What are the Uses of Polyester Fabric?
The following are the top uses of polyester fabric:
Where is Polyester Produced?
According to Research and Markets, China has the largest
production volume of polyester, among all the countries producing polyester. It exports polyester to various countries, including the U.S., India, Vietnam, and more.
What are the Different Types of Polyester Fabric?
There are three major types of polyester fabric:
1. PET or Ethylene Polyester
PET (polyethylene terephthalate) or Ethylene polyester is the most used type of polyester. It is obtained from a petroleum-derived product called ethylene. To make PET polyester, ethylene glycol interacts with terephthalic acid. The process takes place at high heat to create a polymer that is stretched to form fibers. These polyester fibers are spun into yarn to make different textiles.
2. PCDT Polyester
Compared to PET, PCDT (poly-1, 4-cyclohexylenedimethylene terephthalate) is less popular. However, due to its durability and elastic property, it is widely used for heavy textiles, such as upholstery and curtains. PCDT polyester is produced by interacting terephthalic acid with 1, 4-cyclohexanedimethanol to form the PCDT Polyester.
3. Plant-Based Polyester
Plant-based polyester is produced from ethylene glycol and dimethyl terephthalate. This type of polyester fabric is biodegradable but it costs more and is less durable than PET or PCDT fabrics. For PET and PCDT, ethylene is derived from petroleum. On the other hand, for plant-based polyester, ethylene is derived from renewable sources like cane sugar.
How is Polyester Fabric Produced?
The polyester fabric can be produced by several methods, depending on the form of the finished polyester. There are 4 basic forms of the finished polyester:
Filament – It produces smooth fabrics as every strand of the polyester fiber is continuous (unlimited) in length.
Polyester Manufacturing Process
Specific processes are used by manufacturers depending on the form of polyester they want to obtain. However, the general steps of polyester production are as follows:
1. Creating a monomer
In this step, ethylene glycol is combined with dimethyl terephthalate in the presence of a catalyst at high heat to produce a monomer.
The resulting monomer interacts with terephthalic acid at high heat. The newly-formed polyester in the clear and molten form is extruded from the reaction chamber in long strips.
The polyester obtained from polymerization is cooled down until it becomes brittle and then broken into tiny chips.
4. Melt spinning
The resulting tiny pieces or chips are then melted to form a syrup-like substance, which is extruded through a spinneret to create fibers. The size of the yarn depends on the number of holes in the spinneret as the emerging fibers are joined to form a single strand.
The polyester filaments are cut or reacted with several chemicals to obtain the desired form of polyester – filaments, staple, tow, or fiberfill. Typically, polyester fibers are spun into yarn before they are subjected to dying or post-production processes.
Polyester Fabric Environmental Impact
Polyester impacts the environment along its entire value chain. From production to the use of polyester-based items to discarding them, polyester fabric degrades the quality of land, air, and water.
Due to its affordability, polyester is widely used in the apparel industry. The demand for man-made fibers, especially polyester, has been growing at a good pace in the past years. However, it promotes fashion overproduction and waste. The manufacture of polyester is an energy-intensive process that requires a huge amount of crude oil. It also emits volatile organic compounds and acid gases that may cause respiratory disease.
Furthermore, the by-products of polyester production are released in the wastewater from polyester manufacturing plants. These by-products can contribute to hazardous waste generation if they enter the oceans.
Polyester also contributes to microplastic pollution. The
2017 New Textiles Economy Report estimates that around
half a million tons of plastic microfibers are released into the oceans every year during the washing of plastic-based textiles such as polyester, nylon, or acrylic.
Polyester does not naturally degrade in the environment and may take many decades to fully break down. Thus, the polyester fabric keeps piling up in the world’s ecosystems, harming the environment at every stage of its production.
More Sustainable Options for Polyester
1. Recycled polyester (rPet)
Currently, most polyester used in the apparel sector is virgin polyester. One of the more sustainable options for virgin polyester is recycled polyester.
According to Textile Exchange, the market share of recycled
polyester increased from 13.7 percent in 2019 to 14.7 percent in 2020.
Recycled polyester is majorly produced by melting down plastic bottles and re-spinning them into new polyester fiber. It can also be produced from other post-consumer plastics, including ocean waste and discarded polyester textiles. Recycled polyester is a great way to reduce plastic waste from landfills. It also requires fewer resources and produces fewer CO2 emissions than new polyester fibers.
Advantages of Recycled polyester
Recycled polyester offers nearly the same properties as offered by virgin polyester along with some eco-friendly benefits as follows:
1. Helps reduce plastics in the landfills and the ocean.
2. Takes fewer resources to produce.
3. It results in huge energy savings.
4. Can be recycled again and again without any degradation in quality
5. It can be produced with less water consumption and
70 percent GHG emissions compared to virgin polyester.
Disadvantages of Recycled Polyester
1. It is difficult to recycle garments made from a blend of polyester and other fabrics.
2. Garments made with 100 percent polyester can’t be recycled
infinitely. Every time the material is recycled, its polymer gets degraded and the fiber can lose its strength. Thus, it can either be used for low-quality textiles or mixed with some quantity of virgin polyester.
3. Color variation in raw materials results in inconsistency in dye shade. The Redyeing process involves a huge amount of water, energy, and chemical use.
4. Contributes to microplastic pollution in oceans.
Certification Standards Used for Recycled Polyester
Certification standards validate the quality and sustainability of recycled polyester. The following are the main standards used for recycled polyester:
2. Bio-based Polyester
Bio-based Polyester is obtained from renewable sources like biowaste and natural fats instead of PET or other fossil fuel-based resources.
According to the Textile Exchange, the market share of
biobased polyester is nearly 0.03 percent of the total polyester production. Bio-based polyester can reduce GHG emissions, however, it must be sourced and managed responsibly.
Polyester fabric has a variety of uses in a range of industries. The biggest advantages of polyester fabric are that it is durable, lightweight, and versatile. However, just like any other synthetic material, polyester has its disadvantages. It is made from fossil fuels and is harmful to the environment.
There is an option for recycled polyester (rPET) that uses PET as a raw material. But recycled polyester clothing comes with the challenge that it is not guaranteed to be recyclable. Though recycled polyester is a sustainable option, it is still non-biodegradable and may take years to disappear, and releases plastic microfibers. Despite all the drawbacks, polyester is sometimes the most ideal fabric to make high-quality or high-performance garments.
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