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Synthetic Materials – How to Identify Them and Why It’s Important

Synthetic Materials – How to Identify Them and Why It’s Important

By Nicole Blythe


A study conducted in 2018 by Friends of the Earth showed that even though washing clothes was the smallest contributor to microplastics in the ocean, they still found 1,600 tonnes of microplastics that were caused by washing synthetic materials (the equivalent to 4 trillion individual fibres). These microplastics were not only contributing to damage to the ecosystem but also to human health as well.

how synthetic materials harming our planet

In order to help combat this, we’ve curated a breakdown of the most common synthetic materials and how to reduce them from your wardrobe.


How to Buy Ethical and Sustainable Pieces

The best way to check you’re purchasing a piece of clothing that is ethically sourced is to check the certificates the company has, the labelling of clothes, and if the company is open about how these materials are sourced.

If a brand uses clean fabrics and sources them ethically, they will be almost always proud of this fact and will, therefore, not feel the need to hide their process. It is a marketable point about their brand and so if they are not transparent about their practices, it's often a bad sign.

Looking for things like ZQ or RWS certificates, GOTS Certificate and Fairtrade Cotton certificates are good starting points.


Common Synthetic Materials to Avoid

From there, we can look at the labels and descriptions of clothing pieces. Most labels give a breakdown of a fabric’s composition in percentages. The main synthetic materials used are synthetic polymers which are artificial in their entirety.

Polyester, which can also be known as PET or Polyethylene Terephthalate, is derived from petroleum and coal, much like acrylic, spandex and nylon. These fabrics are very common and can be found in many clothing pieces, but the process of making them is hazardous for the environment from start to finish.

Spandex can be recycled during the post-consumer process, but customers rarely do and if the spandex has been mixed with other fabrics it can become unrecyclable.

Other synthetic materials like semi-synthetics derived from cellulose can be a lot harder to avoid, and are less damaging in their production, so can be consumed if handled appropriately.

made with econyl

Made with Econyl - one of our favourite recycled waste and fishnets materials used by selected brands we support at 


What We Should Do

If you already own synthetically made clothing, don’t be in a rush to throw it away or replace it - that can actually do more harm than good. Instead, consider how you’re treating these pieces. Washing them less frequently, using washbags to catch microplastics, which can stop them from entering the water waste, and using eco-friendly, non-harsh detergents all helps.

eco friendly detergent

Clothing made from organic cotton, silk, wool, yarn and bamboo are all much more sustainable options if sourced ethically.

Discover more about some of our favourite sustainable fashion and beauty brands that are good for the planet and you!