Image: Powerhouse Museum
Polyester is made from synthetic fibers and is composed of coal, water, air and petroleum. The fabric has been developed in the 20th century. It was only in 1947 when they started to produce polyester on a larger scale. The material became very popular in the 1960s because of its easy care. However, this changed after a few years when the image of polyester became worse. Since then many new types of polyester have been introduced, like the microfiber which was presented in 1991. Polyester easily blends with other fibers. A well-know mix is called the “classical blend” and refers to a mixture of 55% polyester and 45% wool.
Polyester is a very strong material and can be easily washed and dried. The fabric dries quickly and does not wrinkle or shrink. Stains hardly get any chance because the fabric does not absorb liquids easily. Because of this quality, polyester is often used for fire- or water-resistant finishes.
China is by far the biggest producing country of polyester. It produces more than 50% of the total production of polyester in the world. India comes second and after, Taiwan follows.
Water is needed for the production process of polyester but the main reason is for cooling. This water is therefore not polluted and can go back into the system again.
Lots of different types of polyester exist, but the most regular one used in textiles is called “Polyethylene Therephthalate”, also named “PET”. Petroleum is the original source of polyester. During het production process of polyester, petroleum is divided into different substances, also known as polymers (ethylene). Polymers arise through a chemical reaction of thousands of small molecules. During the chemical reaction, the small molecules become one long molecule (polymer). This process is called “polymerization”.
The fabric polyester is made through a so called “melt spinning process”. During this process, the raw materials are heated at a very high temperature into a spinning mass. This mass goes through a spinneret, resulting in polyester fibers. The profile of the fibers defines whether the fabric becomes shiny or dull. The production process of polyester is very chemical and toxic. For example, polyester is easily flammable and is therefore finished with flame retardant. The entire production process of polyester has a very negative impact on our environment. Besides, recent research sheds more and more light on the risks of wearing polyester fabric due to its high level of toxicity. However, the good news here is, polyester is one of the easiest fibers to recycle. Recycled polyester on the other hand, has a less negative impact on our surroundings.
Polyester is extremely difficult to dye, because it hardly absorbs any dyestuffs. Therefore, more chemical techniques are needed in order to dye the fabric, having a greater impact on the environment.
The production of polyester is very cheap. This is one of the main reasons why the fabric is so widely used. 65% of the total fiber world production is synthetic. From these synthetic fibers, 70% is made of polyester. This illustrates the enormous amount of polyester in the world’s textile market.