February 19, 2018

The Dangers of Synthetic Fibers and Fabrics on the Environment



With the unending discussion about renewable energy and fossil fuel, and the harm it is causing to our environment, the unhealthy carbon emission, depleting the ozone layer and ultimately bringing about the impending catastrophic global warming environmental scientists warn us about, it is important we decide if we all want this planet to survive our excesses.

Carbon emission must be minimized to keep our environment and ecosystem sustainable, the oil rigs must be stopped and the world should move to the more environmentally sustainable source of energy, right? But we all forget the industry that is primarily fed by this oil rigs, the textile industry.

The textile industry contributes more to environmental degradation than any other industry, according to research, the textile industry is responsible for over 10% of global carbon emissions. That's scarily huge. All these statistics are damaging the ecosystem and destroying our environment.

But production of clothing should be a risk free industry, that was true some 50-60 years ago, but with the change in materials used by manufacturers and designers in the production of apparels, and the shift in the demand of more organic clothing material by consumers to synthetic fibers, the natural fibers which dominated clothing production materials may soon be a thing of the past.

This new textile industry is dominated by polyester, nylon, rayon, and acrylic. Another reason behind this change in materials is because synthetic and microfibers are cheaper to produce.

This may be good for profit and the economy in general, but it is confirmed that it is also damaging the environment on a massive scale. The dangers of these synthetic fibers and fabrics are dire to the environment, this article will be taking a look at some of the dangers and damages of these environmental pollutants.

The Rise Of Synthetic Fabrics And Fibers

Some time ago, the production of clothing was simple, and at the same time laborious. Simple in the sense that, simple materials like wools and cotton were used for the production of apparels, laborious in the sense that small farmers had to handspun wools and cotton to get the required style of clothing needed.

But as demand increased, large fabric manufacturing companies emerged, where mass production of clothing fabrics was carried out. As the manufacturing enlarged, improvements were made to the manufacturing process.

Chemicals were added to the fabric to prevent them from wrinkling and shrinking. Artificial dyes were added to fabrics, and also flame retardants.

Then after that came the petroleum-based clothing industry, that is a big culprit in the production of synthetic fibers and synthetic fabrics, that now plague the environment.

Health Risks Of Synthetic Fibers

Although these microfibers might be less expensive than the natural fibers, and easier to produce in large quantities, it still poses it health risks to the consumers. Every time we are around fabrics, it is hard for us not to, even impossible, and mostly the fabrics we are surrounded by are synthetic fibers.

These synthetic fibers are mostly made of polyester, which is a plastic and is a by-product of petroleum. Polyester is strongly linked to hormonal disruption and even the formation of breast cancer cells.

This health risk is not only suffered by the consumers, also factory workers face this health hazards. The process of changing petroleum into polyester is a long, toxic and nasty process and these workers, some of them children. They mostly work in terrible conditions, and they face this debilitating health issues.

Environmental Risks Of Synthetic Fibers

The planet earth is being poisoned without repair because of these synthetic fibers. It is reported that the clothing industry is accountable for over 20% of industrial water pollution in the world.

Some of these chemicals which are waste products of the manufacturing process are washed into our water, most of these chemicals are impossible to break down, meaning the water is forever polluted, no path to redemption.

Plastics are also another by-product of petroleum, and they are known to be non-degradable. Most of our waterways have been clogged with plastic bottles, even marine life isn’t safe. Most fishes have been examined and synthetic nylons have been found in their intestinal tract.

Seabirds too have been found dead, and cause of death have been ingestion of synthetic fibers that they thought was food. Synthetic fibers are an increasing, long-term threat that must be tackled head-on, or we will poison our planets beyond redemption.

Environmental Impacts Of Different Synthetic Fibers And Chemicals

Fabrics and chemicals have different impacts depends on what they are made with

  • Polyester And Nylon: These two by-products of petroleum are very hazardous to the environment. They are non-biodegradable and unsustainable to the environment. The production of nylon emits nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more dangerous to the ozone layer than carbon dioxide. The production of polyester requires much water, the contaminated water after usage is flushed back into the waterways.
  • Rayon: This organic fiber is made from wood pulp. Wood might look unharmful and non-toxic, but the clearing of large forests to get wood for rayon has an adverse effect on the environment, this we all know.
  • Dye: Dye is another material used mostly for the production of garments. The unused dyes are then washed into rivers and waterways, polluting the environment.

Long-Term Negative Effects Of Synthetic Products

Synthetic materials which are by-products of petroleum are non-biodegradable, synthetic products take a long time to decompose, creating long-term pollution.

Nylon is hard to recycle, making them hard to decompose, accumulate landfills more. Polyesters are easy to recycle, which makes them less harmful to the society. Recycled polyesters are used to make eco-fashion, which is fashion that is more eco-friendly.

Synthetic fibers also taint the water bodies, from a waste product derived from textile factories to dyes, they are all flushed into our waterways and sewers, making the environment more harmful and dangerous.