Cotton or Polyester? Which Textile Fiber is More Environmentally Friendly?

Maeen Md Khairul Aker


The textile industry is a crucial part of the economy of Bangladesh, employing millions of people and accounting for a significant portion of the country’s exports. However, the industry also has a significant environmental impact, particularly regarding the fibers used to produce textiles. In Bangladesh, cotton and polyester are two of the most commonly used textile fibers. In this article, we will explore the environmental impacts of cotton and polyester fibers in the context of Bangladesh and discuss potential solutions to reduce the industry’s ecological footprint.

Comparison Metrices

Image: Cotton field

Cotton is the most widely used natural textile fiber. It was the major textile fiber for manufacturing clothing, linen, and other textile articles. With the proliferation of plastics and innovations in synthetic textile fibers, polyester (PET) is now widely used especially in clothing manufacturing. Cotton, however, is still the predominant fiber in linen and home textile manufacturing. The environmental impact of textile industry is a major concern for climate change and the major GHG emission comes from the processing of textile fibers. Both cotton and polyester are processed through subsequent engineering systems to yarn and fabric before they can be cut and sewed to desired articles. The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) has been used in various research to identify the relative environmental impacts of the two fibers. LCA is a popular methodology used to evaluate the environmental impacts of products or services throughout their entire life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials to the disposal of the final product. In the case of textile fibers, LCA can be used to compare the environmental impacts of different fibers, such as cotton and polyester. Key points to consider when comparing the LCA of cotton and polyester textile fibers:

Image: Polyester chips, byproducts from petroleum production
  1. Raw materials: Cotton is derived from a natural plant source, while polyester is a synthetic fiber from petrochemicals. Cotton production requires land, water, and energy to grow and harvest the cotton, while polyester production requires energy and chemicals to manufacture the synthetic fiber.
  2. Manufacturing: Both cotton and polyester fibers go through several processing stages before they can be made into textiles. The manufacturing process for cotton involves cleaning, carding, spinning, and weaving, while the process for polyester involves melting, extruding, and spinning. Both processes require energy and generate waste.
  3. Durability: Polyester is generally considered more durable than cotton, which means that polyester clothing can be worn and washed more often before needing to be replaced. This can result in a lower environmental impact over the life cycle of the product.
  4. End-of-life: Both cotton and polyester can be recycled, but the process for recycling polyester is generally more energy-intensive than for cotton. Cotton can also be composted, while polyester cannot.

Overall, the environmental impacts of cotton and polyester fibers depend on many factors, including the specific production processes used, the location of production, and the intended use of the final product. However, some studies have found that polyester has a lower overall environmental impact than cotton, due in part to its higher durability and the lower water requirements of polyester production. However, these studies do not consider the potential impacts of microplastic pollution from synthetic fibers, which is a growing concern for the environment.

Cotton or Polyester? Which one is more Environmentally Friendly?

Image: Sports-wears, working out cloths are all made of polyester

Cotton is a natural fiber that is grown in many parts of the world, including Bangladesh. Cotton production requires large amounts of water, pesticides, and fertilizers, which can have negative impacts on the environment and human health. In Bangladesh, cotton is often grown using intensive irrigation, which can lead to soil degradation and water depletion. Additionally, the use of pesticides and fertilizers in cotton production can contaminate soil and water resources, leading to health problems for farmers and nearby communities.

Polyester, on the other hand, is a synthetic fiber that is made from petrochemicals. The production of polyester fibers requires large amounts of energy and generates greenhouse gas emissions. In Bangladesh, the production of polyester fibers is primarily dependent on imported raw materials, which adds to the environmental impact of the industry. Furthermore, the production of polyester fibers generates toxic waste and air pollution, which can have negative impacts on the health of workers and nearby communities.

When comparing the environmental impacts of cotton and polyester fibers in Bangladesh, there are several factors to consider. First, cotton production requires large amounts of water and can have negative effects on soil and water resources. However, cotton is a natural fiber that can be composted or recycled, which reduces its environmental impact at the end of its life cycle. In contrast, polyester production generates significant greenhouse gas emissions and toxic waste, but polyester fibers are more durable and can be recycled.

One potential solution to reduce the environmental impact of textile fibers in Bangladesh is to promote sustainable cotton production. This can be achieved through the use of more efficient irrigation methods, reduced pesticide and fertilizer use, and the use of non-GMO cotton varieties. Additionally, promoting the use of organic cotton can reduce the use of harmful chemicals and improve the health of farmers and nearby communities. Another potential solution is to encourage the use of recycled polyester fibers, which can reduce the environmental impact of the production process.

However, there are also challenges to promoting sustainable cotton and recycled polyester production in Bangladesh. For example, the high cost of sustainable production methods can make it difficult for small-scale farmers to adopt these practices. Additionally, the need for infrastructure for recycling polyester fibers can make it challenging to create a closed-loop system for producing and disposing of polyester products.


The environmental impacts of cotton and polyester fibers in Bangladesh are complex and multifaceted. While cotton production can have negative impacts on water and soil resources, polyester production generates greenhouse gas emissions and toxic waste. Promoting sustainable cotton production and recycled polyester fibers can help to reduce the environmental impact of the textile industry in Bangladesh. However, implementing these solutions is also challenging; further research and investment will be needed to create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly textile industry in Bangladesh.


  1. Life cycle assessment of cotton textiles and clothing, S. Rana 1, S. Karunamoorthy 2, S. Parveen 1, R. Fangueiro 1, Woodhead Publishing Series in Textiles, 2015
  2. Shadia Moazzem, Fugen Daver, Enda Crossin & Lijing Wang (2018) Assessing the environmental impact of textile supply chain using life cycle assessment methodology, The Journal of The Textile Institute, 109:12, 1574-1585, DOI: 10.1080/00405000.2018.1434113