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I was wondering whether fleece clothing is a good, cheap and above all sustainable alternative to conventional cotton, which uses a lot of pesticides and takes a lot of water to grow.

The other sustainable alternatives, ranging from organic cotton to hemp, are all significantly more expensive and often fairly hard to find.

Fleece clothing is often advertised as 'recycled' or 'upcycled' from plastic trash, but to what extent is this true and how well does it do in other respects? I suspect that, since it's a synthetic material that's been recycled, it doesn't use any pesticides, but are there any other pollutants being produced? What about water usage? Other forms of pollution?

Of course, the fact that the clothing is often still produced in Southeast Asia makes transportation a factor in practice, but this isn't inherent to fleece clothing.

Any other insights into this matter would be highly appreciated as well.

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    Excellent question! Two other factors to consider might be whether fleece clothing can be recycled at the end of its life, and what upstream effects there may be - does use of recycled plastic for clothing mean that new plastic must be made for other products? – LShaver Dec 22 '16 at 23:56
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    @LShaver I think the production of plastic is so cheap that it's rarely -- although it is improving -- recycled because it's simply not profitable. Taking away some plastic to make clothes is thus unlikely to have much of an effect on the production of new plastics, but it does take away some plastic that might otherwise end up as trash. – Ben Dec 23 '16 at 0:34
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    A big problem of fleece and other plastic-based clothing is that it releases thousands of tiny threads when it's washed in a washing machine. These micro-plastics are not filtered out of the waste water and end up in the environment. Sadly there has been little research how harmful the effects are, which makes it difficult to make a good assessment of the pros and cons. More information in How bad are nylon and polyester clothing for the environment? – THelper Dec 23 '16 at 8:14
  • @THelper is right, but on the other hand fleece can often be washed gently and infrequently compared to cotton, reducing detergent pollution and energy consumption. This is because water-based dirt sits on the surface rather than soaking in to the fibres. – Chris H Dec 23 '16 at 8:33
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    I'm not sure the uses are directly comparable. Fleece is for warm layers, and while I have had cotton jumpers they're not common. You couldn't make a T shirt or shirt out of fleece for warm conditions. – Chris H Dec 23 '16 at 8:34
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Polar fleece cloth is Polyethylene terephthalate (C10H8O4) sometimes brand named Dacron. It is the same synthetic organic used to make plastic soda bottles, but it isn't generally recycled in its textile form.

If that is the kind of fleece you mean, then cotton probably more naturally fits into the original cycles of the earth's biosphere. Cotton may require water, but the water is reclaimed by evaporation during harvesting cycles and returns to the ground or atmosphere.

The pesticides are a concern of course, but read up on how PET is produced and you may dismiss those concerns when you think about the barrage of chemical reactions and various waste products created by the synthetic textile industry.

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