All Around Me Are Familiar Plastics

Polyester and plastics. As I looked around the room, all I could think of was, polyester and plastics.

I was visiting a dear friend on a Friday night and as I looked around the room I couldn’t help but notice the vast amount of people clinging to plastic drinking containers and wearing polyester garments. I wouldn’t say I was surprised, but I was reminded that two of the most commonplace items one could find at a gathering were two items with tremendous impact.

World over, polyester is the most widely used synthetic fiber. Polyester is created from nonrenewable resources coal and petroleum; just to extract these resources requires mining that destroys natural habitats. While manufacturing polyester doesn’t leave much by-product, the transportation of raw materials and the multiple factories involved in production contribute mercilessly to pollution. Perhaps one of the most unfortunate things about this fiber is that it is commonly blended with other fibers, which may even be natural, but will result in a material that can take 30-40 years to decompose.

Polyester has a lot in common with plastic—including the fact that we use both products an awful lot. Of course, carrying around a glass bottle isn’t the most convenient thing in the world, but it’s not a bad idea when you consider that our oceans are littered with over 5 trillion pieces of plastic.  When you come across an image of a helpless sea turtle with a thin plastic straw piercing through his nose, you start to wonder if our rapid consumption lifestyle is really worth endangering lives.

It’s heartbreaking to know that our plastic bottles, containers, coffee cups, straws, packaging, etc. end up in oceans and are readily consumed by thousands of animals, large and small, and are posing a serious threat to aquatic life. Our manufacturing and disposing of textiles on land is similarly impactful; causing pollution and carcinogenic toxic waste that is known to deplete entire regions of clean air, water, and hygienic resources. In an effort to be easy, cheap, and convenient humans have forsaken the livelihood of one another for centuries—but it’s not just other people anymore. While economics can dictate the conduct and misconduct of human beings, it is also destroying the livelihood of those creatures that cannot speak for themselves.

We are creatures of consumption, and there is no perfect way to lead a lifestyle. However, there are definitely better alternatives to many of our lifestyle choices. A technological development I hope we can shift some attention to is PET derived polyester, also known as, recycled polyester. By using PET as the raw material as opposed to coal or petroleum, we are able to recycle used plastics and actually convert it into polyester fibers—the most widely used synthetic fiber. By recycling the PET used in clear plastic bottles, much less plastic is likely to end up in landfills. Once the PET items are collected they are sterilized and crushed into small chips. The chips are then heated and fed through a spinneret to create yarns. The yarn is wound on a spool, and the result is a polyester fiber that can be dyed, manufactured, and used as fabric.

The use of recycled materials is an important step towards conscious consumption; replacing plastic items with those made from bamboo, metal, or glass is also possible and selfless. It’s cool to care about this great green earth we’re living on. Sustainability isn’t just a goal—it is the ongoing process of putting things back in the cycle. Reducing our impact, reusing and recycling what we consume, and slowing down the cycle are good for the environment, and that’s good for you. 

By Doha Khan

By Doha Khan