The term LULU (locally undesirable land uses) includes landfills, dumps and prisons, among other things.
That’s a convenient coincidence, because this post is about leggings and landfills.
Stretch fabrics, like those used for leggings and sports bras, are typically made from polyester blends. And clothing made of polyester have one inevitable fate: they will end up as landfill.
Legging fabric, especially high quality legging fabric, requires high stretch and recovery performance. It needs to stretch way out and bounce right back into its original shape without sagging or puckering. Natural fibers, such as cotton, linen, or wool, and biodegradeable cellulosic fibers, such as rayon, lyocell or modal, do not have the durability to meet those performance requirements.
Polyester was made for this. It has the strength to withstand high elasticity without breaking and the durability to withstand the manufacturing processes needed to make high performance stretch fabrics. It also keeps its colors, like forever. It doesn’t fade.
However, polyester is harmful to the environment. The manufacturing process is petroleum based and creates pollution. Polyester is not biodegradable. Some types can be recycled, but even recycled PET will eventually end up in landfills. When burned, polyester releases toxic gases into the atmosphere. Microfibers that have been shedding from polyester clothing during laundering have been contaminating our water supply.
I wouldn't suggest that we stop wearing leggings. I practice yoga and that would be hypocritical. My teenage daughters live in them, and it makes sense for their active lifestyle. But we can limit our purchases of high performance stretch clothing to activities that require it, make a conscious effort to recycle or upcycle it, and minimize its contribution to landfills and air pollution.
For everyday clothing that is simply comfortable, polyester has nothing on natural fibers. Cotton is naturally soft and breathable. Wool has inherent wicking properties. Lyocell is soft and drapey. Jeans, sweatpants, hoodies, tees, and dresses made from natural fibers are everywhere. These clothes are not tight fitting leggings, but they would still help us move - toward a better, cleaner world.