Patagonia's Footprint Cronicles: the offgassing of Polyester

I must say I was impressed the other day when I sent in a question to Patagonia's Footprint Chronicles. Last summer I started working with Patagonia as the Western Canadian Sales rep. I was quite aware of the companies reputation for environment stewardship but am continually amazed by how much energy and money the company puts toward decreasing their environmental footprint and also educating and inspiring others to do the same. I can admit I am a skeptic when anything sounds too good to be true and am often guilty of being overly critical of those that claim righteousness. The thing that really gives Patagonia credit is that they readily admit their faults. Consumption of anything material is going to decrease the resources of the planet; often far more than we would expect. There is a lot to learn about the 'true cost of goods' we consume through spending time on Patagonia's Footprint Cronicles: http://www.patagonia.com/web/us/footprint/index.jsp?slc=en_US&sct=US

When I wrote in the other day I had a response within the hour. I was posed a question from an employee at a store that sells Patagonia. The question had to do with the off-gassing of polyester. I had no clue. Here is what I got back:
This is from our Environmental Assessor Of Raw Materials:

Off-gassing is a good issue to bring up. Most things off-gas, but what
is of concern is the amount or rate of off-gassing, and what chemicals
are coming off. For example, the "new-car smell" that people really like
to breathe in when they buy a new car is really the mixture of VOC's
from all the brand new plastic components and adhesives in a new car.
VOC's are the small-chain organic compounds that make their way out of
the product and into the air. This process increases with heat. And it
decreases over time. So a 10-year old car is still off-gassing, but not
very much, and that's why it doesn't smell like a new car anymore
(besides the dirty clothes in the back seat!) Recently there have been
studies about the toxicity of these chemicals, and their concentration
in an enclosed vehicle, and now concerns have been raised about the
health effects of the much-loved new-car smell!

What does this mean for Patagonia clothes? Well, first we choose
environmentally-friendly raw materials. And we choose manufacturers who
are making materials with the best-available technology environmentally.
We are using recycled polyester and other recycled materials, and
designing our clothes to be recyclable into new clothes. We are striving
for true recycling -- not just downcycling. In the case of this recycled
polyester, the off-gassing is no different than that of virgin
polyester. And polyester has extremely low off-gassing potential. And
the chemicals in polyester are extremely low in toxicity. But no
material is perfect! The two possible issues with polyester are antimony
(a catalyst typcially used to polymerize PET polyester) and disperse
dyes (the type used to dye polyester). We take care to focus on these
components and eliminate or substitute chemicals that have a high EHS
(environmental, health, and safety) potential.

So the short answer to your question is that recycled polyester (or
virgin polyester) fabrics do not really off-gas. But when Michael
Braungart talks about off-gassing, he's talking as a doctor of chemistry
and we have to understand that almost EVERYTHING around us is
off-gassing something. So he's trying to highlight the potential danger
of having toxic substances in products, even product we don't "consume,"
because those toxics are potentially coming off the product and being
absorbed into our bodies. And so we need to manufacture all products in
the most environmentally conscious way possible, particularly
eliminating toxic substances from manufacturing and from the final
products. And this is what we are striving for in all our Patagonia

Have a good day!

Patagonia Customer Service

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