The T-shirt. A wardrobe staple for most. We often have heaps of them in our cupboards too. They are generally low-maintenance, versatile and comfortable. Chances are most t-shirts in your wardrobe are made from cotton, and the rest (mostly used for exercise and sports) are made from polyester. This is where the problem lies. Did you know that your T-shirts could be causing a huge damaging impact on the environment? Here’s why.
Polyester – essentially plastic
Polyester is a thermoplastic polymer synthesised using a chemical reaction involving coal, petroleum, air and water. Most gym gear and exercise wear is made from polyester due to its ability to wick sweat away from the wearer’s skin. Most of us don’t realise though that what we’re wearing is essentially made of plastic, the production of which extensively uses petroleum and is harmful to the environment.
But what about recycled polyester? Isn’t that eco-friendly?
Recycled polyester certainly helps in the sense that it doesn’t boost further production of plastic, by instead using old plastic like PET bottles to create the fabric. However, the biggest environmental impact of polyester clothing is largely invisible to our eyes. Washing polyester clothing releases a massive amount of microplastics into the water, which eventually finds its way to our oceans, polluting the water, and even coming back to humans through seafood that has consumed these microplastics. When we think of plastic polluting our waters, we usually picture plastic bags, bottles etc floating around without thought to the effect of microplastics. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, over 10% of plastic pollution in our oceans comes from us just washing these synthetic clothes! In fact, the IUCN also estimates that all of us on average dump approximately 54 plastic bags worth in polyester microfibres into the oceans every week – that’s 2808 plastic bags dumped per year!
While many studies acknowledge it is close to impossible to do away with polyester altogether, we can certainly find ways to minimise our use of them. The moisture-wicking capability of polyester, for example, is naturally present in Bamboo fibre, due it’s high hygroscopicity. So if staying dry is what drives you to use plastic-based clothes, here’s a simple alternative.
Watch this engaging and very enlightening video by The Story of Stuff Project to understand this better:
Okay, so Polyester is bad. Cotton must be great right? It’s natural.
The sad news is, cotton has severe adverse environmental impacts too. Put aside the fact that cotton doesn’t do well functionally for activities that involve sweating (unless you like heavy, soaked fabric sticking to your body ie). The notion that cotton is a natural fibre and hence, good for the environment is unfortunately, flawed.
While cotton isn’t made from plastics, the process of growing cotton is harmful in 3 major ways. First – it takes a huge amount of water to grow cotton, approximately 2700 litres of water for a single t-shirt actually. That’s enough drinking water for a human being for 900 days! Watch this National Geographic video explain this perfectly:
Bamboo on the other hand uses less than 30% of the water to grow than cotton does per acre. In addition, the yield of Bamboo per acre is atleast 50 times that of cotton, which means overall the fibre needed to make a Bamboo t-shirt could use 150 times less water than cotton. We currently use a 50:50 blend of Bamboo and cotton (for increased tenacity), which means every Bamboo Tribe Tee saves approximately 1850 Litres of water! We will keep doing R&D to improve this blend further.
Also, as the video shows, washing our clothes less frequently can also help reduce consumption of water, which is fast becoming a scarce resource. While this may sound strange to you, as we are all driven to believe that our clothes must be washed after every use, this simply isn’t the case. And here’s where Bamboo shines again. Being naturally anti-microbial, Bamboo fabric kills bacteria that can be harmful and also cause odour. While it’s upto you to decide how often you want to wash your clothes, Bamboo Tribe Originals certainly don’t need to be washed as frequently as its cotton and polyester counterparts.
The other two main impacts of cotton are the use of pesticides and soil erosion. Some studies show that nearly 25% of the world’s pesticide use is purely to grow cotton for fabric. That’s massive. Also, growing cotton erodes the soil it is planted on due to extensive ploughing which causes the topsoil to be washed away. On the other hand, Bamboo requires little to no pesticides to grow, once again due to it’s natural anti-microbial property, and since bamboo shoots are only cut off to form new shoots rather than uprooting the plant itself, soil erosion does not occur. In fact, Bamboo’s extensive root system binds the soil, protecting against erosion, as well as drip-feeding excess water into the soil to raise the water table.
Watch how Utthan, an Indian NGO, used Bamboo to rejuvenate a village with dying, arid land, caused through industrial devastation:
The Lowdown – Bamboo wins
– Bamboo fibres can use as little 150 times less water than cotton
– Bamboo plantations can raise the water table
– Bamboo fabric doesn’t need to be washed as often as cotton and polyester
– Bamboo can be grown without pesticides
– Bamboo’s root system protects against soil erosion
– Bamboo is not composed of thermoplastics
And best of all, Bamboo is light, soft and breathable – in fact, more so than even Egyptian cotton AND it is moisture-wicking and naturally anti-odour. So you could practically replace BOTH cotton and polyester with Bamboo clothes!
Stay comfortable. Stay smart. Stay responsible. Switch to Bamboo.