Sweating the Small Stuff: How Your Activewear May Be Harming the Environment

Mar 4, 2021 | Climate Solutions, Ethical Production, Ocean Health, Sustainable Fashion

By Dotty Liao.

Your workout gear might not be working out so great for the planet.  Chances are, your favorite pair of leggings and go-to sports bra is made of fibers blended with spandex, nylon, acrylic, polyester or lycra. 

 These fabrics are popular in activewear because of their durability and stretchiness, which makes them ideal for moving around without being hampered by heavier, less flexible fabrics like cotton or wool.

Most workout gear is comprised of synthetic materials, meaning they are made from unnatural materials that are designed to withstand heavy physical activity and are nearly indestructible. Great for your intense workouts, but not so great for our earth. If thrown into a landfill, synthetic fabrics leach toxic chemicals into the environment and remain intact for hundreds of years. GreenPeace states that polyester emits three times the amount of carbon dioxide as regular cotton does.

Polyester and nylon also shed thousands of microscopic plastic particles every time they’re thrown in the laundry – up to 700,000 fibers are shed in a single wash. These microplastics end up back in our oceans, lakes, and reservoirs where they pollute and harm aquatic wildlife and their habitats.

So why are big-name companies like Nike and Adidas still using polyester in their products? Though both brands have made promises to become more sustainable, they haven’t addressed their use of harmful chemicals or their decision to continue using some synthetic materials.

Thankfully, new companies are entering the activewear scene with sustainability as their central focus, offering sleek and sporty activewear styles made from eco-conscious materials that reduce the harmful impacts propagated by other big-name activewear brands.

Cleaner alternatives can include fabrics that are made of recycled plastics or ocean waste. Many eco-conscious brands are using fabrics like Repreve, a material produced from recycled plastic water bottles, or Vita, which is made from recycled fishing nets. Econyl also uses recycled fishing nets and is said to be on par with the popular activewear material, lycra.

TENCEL®, which is produced from Beechwood, and Cupro, which is regenerated from cellulose fibers derived from cotton liners, is also becoming popular in activewear.

Though these fabrics also have their drawbacks, such as high energy consumption and the persistent problem of shedding microfibers, and non-biodegradability at the end of a garment’s lifecycle, they still leave a lighter footprint on Earth’s carbon scale, and are innovating the use of ocean plastics for creating new materials.

Looking for sustainable activewear that doesn’t just make you look good, but feel good about shopping? Download the GoodHuman app, where you’ll find a whole wide world of sustainable products from ethical brands!