Reviewed by Ogbo Godfrey
Polyester elastane fabric is not eco-friendly as it contains fossil fuels and other toxic chemicals. Additionally, the production process also contributes to carbon emissions.
Nowadays, most people are conscious of choosing fabrics for clothes and other items they purchase. The polyester elastane fabric is one such fabric that many people are unsure how eco-friendly it is.
In case you didn’t know, this fabric is popular due to its stretchiness, comfort, and durability.
It has become a staple in our wardrobes, appearing everywhere, from shorts and socks to our sportswear. The fabric may make garments more comfortable, but it isn’t the most eco-friendly option.
If you want to know whether polyester elastane fabric is eco-friendly, read on to find out.
What Is Elastane Fiber?
Elastane, or “spandex,” is a synthetic fiber admired for its flexibility and pleasant hand for quite some time. Another common word for this material is Lycra, which is technically not a synonym but a brand name for spandex textiles.
Although the name spandex is more prevalent in North America. This fabric comes from a polyether-polyurea copolymer, a long-chain polymer known as polyurethane.
You can compare polyurethane to artificial rubber. Scientists make polyurethane through a multi-step chemical process that includes the interaction of diisocyanates and polyols.
The resulting fiber has the desirable properties of being lightweight, robust, and highly elastic. Given its many uses and adaptability, elastane is a popular choice for designers and shoppers looking for form-fitting yet comfortable garments.
It is typically blended with cotton, polyester, or nylon to produce garments that combine elasticity with desirable attributes like softness, breathability, and durability.
Additionally, people can easily obtain it without the aid of foresters or harvesting.
History of Polyester Elastane
Even though scientists did not make elastane until the late 1950s, its story starts in 1937 in Nazi Germany. After WWII, scientists and inventors set out to create new synthetic materials, and elastane was among them.
At the IG Farben plant in Leverkusen, Otto Bayer and his colleagues developed polyurethane, which quickly transformed into several plastics.
The main reason they made polyurethane was to replace rubber. Rubber was the go-to elastic material back then, so naturally, it was quite valuable. People could only get it from specific types of trees, so its price fluctuated without warning, and it was sometimes hard to get.
In the past, IG Farben had no plans to use polyurethane in their clothing line. However, in the early 1950s, scientists at the American chemical company Dupont, directed by Joseph Shivers, set out to find a way to overcome the drawbacks of rubber and other textiles by creating a new kind of innovative fabric.
The discovery that people can use polyurethane to create elastane, a highly elastic fabric, was made possible by DuPont’s groundbreaking research.
Dupont branded it as Lycra and released it to consumers. When they introduced elastane, it changed the textile business forever since it was the first fabric to stretch and move with the body.
This fabric comes from a wide range of 100% synthetic materials, so many people did not think it would significantly affect the environment. Therefore, elastane became very popular very quickly.
Unfortunately, the manufacturing of polyester elastane fabric necessitates using several harmful chemicals, all of which threaten the environment if not disposed of correctly. As an additional downside, elastane-based fabrics and clothes are not biodegradable.
Is Polyester Elastane Fabric Eco-Friendly?
The origin of a fabric, the processes used to manufacture it, and their effects on the environment all play a role in determining whether or not they can be considered sustainable. The annual cumulative impact of polyester elastane fabric production on the environment is significant.
It’s unclear how far-reaching elastane’s unfavorable effects are. Since scientists develop the main elements of this fabric in a laboratory, sourcing elastane’s raw materials is not seen as environmentally damaging.
Unfortunately, producing this cloth requires a lot of energy and numerous harmful chemicals.
Polyurethane is not particularly hazardous compared to other plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Nonetheless, most individuals believe that scientists use carcinogenic substances to create polyurethane.
Moreover, elastane is also produced using fossil fuels, which are not renewable because their formation takes millions of years. In addition, petroleum releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
Also, polyurethane’s raw components, isocyanates, have been linked to various respiratory problems in children, including asthma, by several occupational safety and consumer watchdog groups.
To make it worse, people usually process these fabrics with dyes, which is terrible for the environment.Unlike the fibers shed by most other fabrics, the ones cleared by elastane are not biodegradable.
While the lasting consequences of microplastics on human health are yet unknown, studies have indicated that they irritate the digestive tract and potentially disrupt the microbiome. These synthetic materials are the ones that produce microplastics.
Advantages of Polyester Elastane
You can stretch polyester elastane fabric up to seven times its original length before snapping it back into place. The stretchy nature of elastane means that garments made from it take the wearer’s shape for a perfect, flattering fit.
The ability of spandex to absorb sweat and keep the wearer dry and cool makes it an excellent choice for workout clothes. This is why most companies use it when making sportswear.
3. Shape retention
Spandex garments are durable and stay looking good for longer. Because of their ability to prevent wrinkles, bunching, and sagging, these fabrics keep garments looking and feeling as good as new for longer.
This characteristic makes spandex-blend garments more durable, so you can wear and wash them repeatedly without worrying about them wearing out.
4. Flexibility and ease of movement
The stretchiness of spandex makes it particularly pleasant to wear. It’s also very flexible, so it doesn’t restrict movement but enhances it by moving with the body.
Since comfort and mobility are essential, spandex fabric is ideal for body-hugging garments and athletic gear.
Spandex is a synthetic material that works well with natural and artificial fibers. When working with polyester elastane fabrics, designers can strike a good balance between elasticity, breathability, weight, and texture.
Impact of Polyester Elastane Fabric on the Environment
Despite elastane’s usefulness, it has certain unfavorable environmental effects. Below are some of the ways this fabric may affect the environment:
1. Contributes to Carbon Emissions
Elastane is made using a chemical process that uses crude oil, which results in carbon emissions. This procedure uses energy and releases greenhouse gases, adding to the acceleration of global warming and the deterioration of the climate.
2. Depletion of resources
Elastane is produced from fossil fuels like crude oil and natural gas, which are nonrenewable resources. At Present, scientists use 1.35 percent of the world’s oil resources to produce synthetic fabric like the polyester elastane fabric.
That’s equivalent to Spain getting one extra year’s worth of oil. This is not precisely sustainable as you may discard these garments after a year or six months, a wasteful use of a finite and essential resource.
If this continues, using fossil fuels and natural gas to produce polyester elastane fabrics will lead to depletion.
Spandex does not decompose in the environment. Sadly, many people throw away spandex clothing when it has reached the end of its useful life. Since they are non-biodegradable, we can expect them to remain in landfills for decades, if not centuries.
This expanding stockpile of non-biodegradable textiles adds to the garbage dilemma and landfill overcrowding.
4. Inadequate systems for recycling
There are few places where you can recycle old spandex clothing. This problem arises because it is difficult to efficiently separate and recycle spandex-containing clothes due to their complex makeup and combination of elements.
Since most spandex-containing items end up in the garbage, there are fewer chances for recycling and reusing.
5. Microplastic waste
Most times, when you wash your leggings or any clothing made of spandex, the fibers end up in the environment and cause microplastic contamination. It can also release tiny synthetic fibers into waterways during the washing process.
Microfibers are a type of microplastic that can penetrate the food chain and cause harm to marine life.
Can I Dispose of Polyester Elastane Fabrics?
Some believe a garment can still be compostable if made mostly or entirely of natural fibers (such as hemp fabric, cotton, linen, wool, cashmere, etc.) and only contains 5-10% elastane.
It’s important to remember that elastane, an inorganic material, is not biodegradable, and you should remove it from the final compost. If you keep it for long, it may also begin to separate from its organic counterparts, releasing microplastics.
Since they often combine elastane with other fibers, recycling it is technically possible but exceedingly challenging. However, the best approach to eliminate elastane is not to get rid of it. Thus, you should wear your fabrics made from it as much as possible.
The production of polyester elastane fabrics is no walk in the park as it requires fossil fuels and consumes a lot of energy. This process results in carbon emissions and microplastics being discharged into the environment.
Why we are still hoping for a more eco-friendly replacement in the future, you can however start by reducing or eliminating your use of polyester elastane fabrics.