Cotton Versus Polyester

Cotton uses about 23% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of the world’s pesticides, according to the Sustainable Cotton Project and Pesticide Action Network North America. On average 200kg of nitrogen is added to the land for every tonne of cotton picked. 33% of this is lost into the atmosphere, though 98% of this is harmless, the remaining 2% is nitrogen dioxide which is 300 times worse as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, polyester is created from petrochemicals and requires twice as much energy to produce as cotton does to grow. However the total cost for producing a cotton shirt and a polyester shirt is about the same, at 3.25CU (a Carbon Unit (CU) equals 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere).

So is cotton or polyester best?

Of course, it depends! The difference between the two is more apparent over the life of the garment. Polyester can be washed at a lower temperature (40 degrees Celcius as opposed to 60), dries more quickly and usually doesn’t need to be ironed. Therefore it contributes approximately around half of the CU a cotton garment does. You could of course wash your cotton items at a lower temperature, hang them to dry and not iron them, then there is no real difference.

[Via: BBC Focus Magazine]


2 thoughts on “Cotton Versus Polyester

  1. How can anyone even compare Cotton with Polyester? ORGANIC COTTON is free of pesticides. Polyester does not Breath no matter what any advocates for this petroleum based product claim. OIL and Water simply do not mix. Polyester creates an anaerobic environment, devoid of Oxygen where bacteria thrives. It appears to dry fast because it never absorbed in the first place. It just slid down your back or leg, which are sweating more than they would do to the stifling environment created by the non-breathable material.
    Wearing Polyester is no different than covering your body in Crude Oil. next time you find yourself complaining about an oil spill and blaming some big company for the problem you need to look down and check what you are wearing on your own body. Picture the pelican covered in crude after the spill. This is you in your poly workout outfit. Wake up and smell the Oil!
    You are responsible for your choices
    Buy Natural
    You will end your struggle with that jock-itch you cant get rid of.


  2. Mark, you sound incredibly biased. I’m a champion of the environment too but pointing out that all the oil spills and dead marine life is a consequence of durable shirts sounds a bit OTT. Of course it uses fractions of crude oil and large amounts of Sb2O3 to catalyse the reactions but I would assume that if all other uses of crude oil ceased…..I doubt very much that the world would demand the continued rape of the resource in question for more polyester. Needless to say that the basic by product of a condensation polymerisation reaction is indeed water, I would only argue that maybe the problem would be disposal. That being said if one polyester shirt lasts 30 years and cotton ones need to be replaced in less than that, I would point out that the real evil here is fashion!

    Fight for the cause my friend but at least make it look like you’re being objective 🙂

    Jason (Wearing polyester – no rash, no itch since 1981)


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