Over the last 16 years, I have slowly become more conscious of the impact I have on this beautiful planet of ours and have tried to make changes to my life accordingly. Most recently, that includes my bedding.
Until recently, the environmental impact of my bedding was something I had never considered. The thought just didn’t enter my head and on talking to friends and family, it hadn’t occurred to any of them either.
What is bedding made of?
I started thinking about what my bedding was made of and the impact those materials have on the environment. Although of course there are natural bedding materials out there, the vast majority include a high percentage of polyester. That includes all bedding, from our sheets and covers to our mattresses and duvets themselves.
The thought of my old bedding sitting in a landfill for hundreds of years filled me with horror so I decided to do some research on polyester to understand what it really is made of, how it is manufactured and how long it takes to decompose.
What is polyester made of?
Polyester is a type of plastic used by most bedding manufacturers. It is a popular choice because it’s cheap to produce. No thought is given to its impact on the environment, and that never leads to anything good!
Polyester feels like the product it is, cheap, synthetic and nasty, so it is often blended with natural fibres to make it seem like a more luxurious item. This helps it to “breathe” and feel more comfortable against our skin. Because of this, cotton-polyester blends are worldwide the most popular fabric for bedding.
Even though it is cheap to produce we are duped into believing we are purchasing a quality product!
Well, they have duped us for long enough! More and more of us are slowly making changes to our lifestyle, aimed at leaving this world a better place for future generations. It may be a little more expensive to buy natural products, but the cost of not making these changes is far greater. Besides, the bigger the demand for natural, planet-friendly products, the cheaper they will become!
How is polyester made?
The official description of polyester is “fibre formed of linear macromolecules comprising at least 85% (by mass) in the chain of an ester of a diol and terephthalic acid”. That is according to the UK government website anyway. Click here to read it!
In plain English, the making of polyester involves a chemical reaction between coal, petroleum, air and water. I have spent hours reading up on how it is made, and I can’t find a way to make it seem interesting. So to heavily summarise, it involves alcohol, acid, melting, drying, spinning, stretching and weaving. It is made from a carbon-intensive, non-renewable resource. More than 70 billion barrels of oil are used to make polyester each year and it’s just gross!
If any of you are interested in an article explaining in detail how it is made, please leave a comment and I will endeavour to make a readable blog about the production of polyester. (Please don’t!)
Does polyester decompose?
Synthetic materials such as polyester will eventually break down and decompose, but it takes hundreds of years for this to happen!
It’s worth noting that polyester is far from a “clean” product on our bed or in a landfill. It is believed that synthetic garments are the biggest source of microplastic pollution in the oceans, this is caused by around 1900 fibres getting released every time a polyester product is washed!
Given there are nearly 67 million people in the UK alone, and let’s say each of us go through 5 duvet and pillow sets in our lifetime, (a very conservative, and frankly unrealistic, estimate), coupled with the sheets and covers that go along with them. That is a staggering amount of waste to be hanging around in landfills, releasing harmful chemicals into the ground, water and air, waiting to biodegrade.
Can polyester be recycled?
Can polyester be recycled? The short answer is, yes. Should it be recycled is highly debatable.
During the chemical recycling of polyester the materials are chemically dissolved into their original form, which is DMT (dimethyl terephthalate) and EG (ethylene glycol) – told you it was boring. These are then purified and used to make new polyester fibre, however, this is a complicated and cost-intensive process.
Although less energy is used to recycle polyester than it uses to make a new product, it still uses far more energy than making a new, natural product.
Is polyester toxic?
I think we all know the answer to this by now, yes, polyester is toxic to us and to the environment.
It contains thermoplastic which releases plastic molecules whenever it is heated. These are breathed in or absorbed into the skin, they accumulate in the body over time and can cause liver and kidney damage.
Cotton-polyester blends are often treated with formaldehyde, (a class 3 carcinogen according to EU classification), to stop materials shrinking and it is softened with chemicals such as ammonia. As the formaldehyde is applied with heat during processing it is forever attached to the fibres. So there’s no washing it out.
Most polyester is also manufactured with antimony, a carcinogen that is toxic to the heart, lungs, liver, and skin. The dyes and bleaches used in many textiles also contain toxic heavy metals such as cadmium and chromium.
All of this results in polyester being one of the most toxic materials most people are exposed to on a daily basis, often causing respiratory and skin conditions.
Can using polyester bedding affect sleep?
Aside from the obvious health implications of using polyester, they don’t ensure the best night sleep. Synthetic products don’t breathe and will leave you feeling too hot or too cold.
This is because we lose water vapour each night when we sleep, and as polyesters are water-resistant this vapour cannot escape. This means your body will become damp, feeling hot and clammy in the summer and cold in the winter.
I bet a few of you have just had an “aaaah” moment! Loads of people I have spoken to have expressed how they often wake up damp and uncomfortable during the night and wondered why! It’s because they weren’t sleeping using a breathable product.
Natural products help to ensure a decent night sleep without the health implications of synthetic.
Is bedding made from polyester bad?
What do you think? I’ve settled that question in your mind, please tell me in the comments below!
Natural bedding products
There are so many different natural products available to us now, from cotton to hemp to bamboo, we need not look back and we can leave plastic bedding the past where it belongs!
Obviously organic is always the goal, but we can only do the best we can and if organic is too expensive, avoiding plastic products is a huge step towards keeping your footprint as light as possible on our beautiful planet.
I feel I must mention the fact we would never recommend cruelly produced bedding such as down, wool or silk, but that is a very different article which I can’t wait to write for you. Watch this space!
Update: I have written blogs on wool production. Click here to read our blog on “Is Wool Humane” and click here for our blog on the silk industry, called “How is Silk Made Today”. If you enjoyed this blog, please leave a comment below. Thank you for reading.
We love Big Green Smile and its Huge supply of vegan products.