Cotton vs. Polyester – For the Health of Our Soil

For as long as I can remember I have been drawn to everything natural, from my father’s backyard garden to the beautiful wool and cotton fabrics my older sisters were buying back in the 1960s to make their fall school clothes. 

Life was simpler then as far as shopping for natural fabrics and dealing with consumer waste was concerned. Purchased products were bagged in paper bags. Liquids and condiments generally came in glass. We placed our weekly family garbage in a metal garbage can that was lined with newspaper. We recycled our glass and cans. Plastic containers? Not many of those existed. Clothing was primarily made from natural fibers- cotton, wool, linen, and silk. Sure, underwear, bras, and pantyhose were being made from man-made fibers such as nylon and polyester but by and large petroleum-based fibers were not the norm like they are today. 

In my lifetime (roughly 60 years), the garment industry has moved offshore as well as moving from natural, biodegradable fibers to fibers made from petrochemicals. So what does this mean for the health of our bodies as well as our soil if more than 50% of the clothing and bedding that is produced is made from a material that is non-compostable and polluting?

Many would argue that there are sustainable fabrics being made from recycled plastics but synthetic polymers are not infinitely recyclable and most only last for one or two cycles. Unfortunately, the laws of physics ensure that polyester, even when recycled, will ultimately be a pollutant. It’s taken some years for it to come to light, but now we are aware of the dire issue of plastic fibers in our drinking water, animal bodies, soils, and marine ecosystems.  

Conversely, cotton is a natural fiber and is completely biodegradable, which means that it breaks down when putting into a composting bin or pile. Because of cotton’s biodegradable properties, all-cotton clothing can also be recycled and used in the manufacture of useful materials such as household insulation.

Polyester is a synthetic material that has many toxic chemicals embedded in it. When you dry synthetic clothes in the dryer, you are outgassing these chemicals into your home and environment. When you throw a polyester product away it takes up to 200 years to biodegrade.  

As environmental awareness has increased more people are taking a fresh look at the benefits of natural fiber fabrics such as cotton. Natural, breathable, and biodegradable. Better for you, your family, and your planet.