Polyester is a material made from plastic fibers.
It's one of the most popular synthetic materials in use today but we wanted to know if the fiber was vegan or not?
We spoke to some environmentalists and some experts in fiber production and this is what we learned about whether polyester is vegan friendly or not.
What Is Polyester?
Polyester is made of plastic. That means it's made from oil. While technically, you could say this means polyester isn't vegan as oil is made from the decayed bodies of animals and plants.
In reality, most people would say that polyester is vegan as these animals died naturally several million years ago, and thus, the synthetic fiber that is produced by the oil industry is as vegan as any other vegan materials are.
Is Polyester Always A Synthetic Fabric?
Is polyester synthetic? Yes. Always. There are no other means of polyester production except those that begin with the raw products of petroleum products.
However, you should be aware that while polyester is vegan, it's a highly problematic material and polyester fabric is a nightmare for the planet.
Is Polyester Really Vegan?
Yes, there's no doubt in our minds that “polyester vegan friendly” is a reasonable label to use on polyester garments.
But many vegans will still reject this synthetic fibre when they learn how much better it is for the planet to use a natural fiber (such as cotton fibers) instead.
Do Synthetic Fibers Harm The Environment?
Yes, Polyester fiber is a nightmare for the planet and this synthetic material takes more than 200 years to decompose in a landfill!
Worse, the manufacturing process relies on toxic chemicals that harm the people who make the material and the environment around the manufacturing facilities when they are dumped into the local watercourses.
Polyester is not at all eco-friendly, it's also a key component of plastic bottles which as you probably know aren't very eco-friendly either.
There are other forms of synthetic fiber that are less damaging to the planet but by and large none of them can be classed as a truly “eco-friendly fabric”.
Of course, animal products are kinder to the planet but these are non-vegan materials and there's really no need to wear leather shoes or a leather jacket in an era of sustainable fashion. (See our directories of sustainable fashion brands and the sustainable fashion designers for some ideas).
You can avoid the polyester family and other man-made fabrics and still lead a fully vegan lifestyle in stylish and affordable clothes.
Can You Recycle Polyester Or Should You Stick To Natural Fibers?
What about recycled polyester? Well, PETA heartily approves of this approach to handling polyester waste.
The recycling process works by taking old plastic-style bottles, usually those that have been thrown away into the sea, and then first crushing them and purifying them.
The next step is to take the wet material and throw it into a huge oven for many hours where it will be baked dry (but never burned – burning polyester releases toxic fumes which are hazardous to human health and to the environment around you).
Then when the plastic has been thoroughly dried, they melt it to form a liquid plastic soup.
This soup then undergoes a very specific cooling process where it is spun into yarn as it dries.
That yarn is super soft and silky, there's no indication to the touch that this was once a bunch of crinkly plasticky bottles, and it won't scratch anyone who wears it or cause any skin irritation (this is one of the reasons that the fashion industry – and in particular fast fashion – loves polyester because it causes no adverse reactions in their customers).
It can then be knitted into fabric, in a similar way that you would knit wool into a piece of fabric, that can be used to make clothing items such as sweatshirts, tracksuits, socks, etc.
If you're still curious about the recycling process for polyester may we recommend this awesome YouTube video that shows every step in detail?
Final Thoughts On Polyester
Yes, polyester is vegan. Sadly, it's not biodegradable and is derived from petroleum which makes it harmful to the planet, us, and animals.
However, the increasingly popular recycled version of the material is much better as it involves inflicting no further damage on the planet and is a very useful way to get rid of bottles made of plastic without tossing them into landfills or the ocean.
So, really, if you want to wear polyester, it pays to ensure that you're using a sustainable recycled version rather than freshly made material from the fast fashion industry.