Can Fashion Break Free From Its Addiction To Plastic?

by admin
Can Fashion Break Free From Its Addiction To Plastic?

You might not know it, but you’re probably wearing some form of plastic right now. In fact, nearly two-thirds of our garments are made from synthetics such as polyester, nylon, acrylic and elastane – all materials that are derived from fossil fuels, release microplastics into the environment, and don’t biodegrade, taking hundreds of years to break down.

Given that so many of us have made a concerted effort to cut back on single-use plastic, it may come as a surprise that there’s so much plastic in our wardrobes. Consider the fact that over 100 billion garments are created every year, and that 70 per cent of our clothes currently end up in landfill, and it’s clear that it’s a huge problem that needs to be addressed. “The vast majority of it ends up in landfills in countries in the Global South; it’s plastic waste in disguise,” George Harding-Rolls, campaign manager at the Changing Markets Foundation, tells Vogue.

View more

Why, then, are so many of our clothes made from plastic? “It’s cheap,” Harding-Rolls says. “Fast fashion relies on cheap labour and cheap materials, and it relies on zero responsibility for the end of life of its products.”

Synthetics also offer certain properties that make them difficult to get rid of entirely when it comes to activewear, outdoors wear and underwear. “Synthetics can provide properties and performance to the user which other fibres cannot replace in some applications at the moment,” Kate Riley, Textile Exchange’s fibre and materials strategy lead for synthetics, explains.

So, what’s the solution? Currently the industry is transitioning from virgin polyester to recycled polyester, in a bid to reduce its environmental impact and prevent waste. Brands including H&M, Adidas and Zara-owner Inditex have set a target of ensuring 100 per cent of its polyester is recycled – or in Inditex’s case, from “preferred sources” – by 2025, as part of Textile Exchange’s Recycled Polyester Challenge.

The problem is that the majority of this recycled polyester is currently coming from plastic bottles. While polyester clothing currently isn’t recycled at scale, plastic bottles are much more easily recycled into other plastic bottles – meaning fashion is taking plastic out of a closed-looped system and transferring it to a linear model. “You’re essentially giving [the recycled plastic] a one-way ticket to landfill,” Harding-Rolls comments. “This is a stop-gap, not a future solution.”

Moving forward, the fashion industry is set to have less access to PET bottles, due to the beverage industry’s own sustainability commitments. “It is therefore even more important that the textile industry continues to scale and develop at an accelerated pace chemical technologies that can recycle complex textile material inputs,” Riley says.

The issues that come with using recycled synthetics have led to Reformation’s commitment to reduce its use of all synthetics to less than one per cent of its collections – whether recycled or not. Currently, synthetics make up between one to three per cent of the brand’s materials. “By setting commitments like this to keep synthetic sourcing to a bare minimum, we are holding ourselves accountable to invest in R&D [research & development] and emerging technologies that will eventually help us break up with virgin synthetics for good,” Kathleen Talbot, Reformation’s chief sustainability officer & VP of operations, explains. “And critically, to curb our own use of recycled synthetics in ready-to-wear categories that just don’t need to be made from plastic.”

As part of its target to rid fossil fuel-derived synthetics from its collections, Reformation is set to launch a pilot with Kintra Fibers – a start-up that has developed a corn-based, biodegradable polyester. Meanwhile, other new innovations such as Natural Fiber Welding’s Clarus, ​​which turns natural fibres such as cotton, hemp and wool into high-performing textiles, could also provide an alternative to the likes of polyester going forward.

Still, these innovations will require time to scale up, and will struggle to match the current demand for polyester any time soon. “The technical development is happening encouragingly quickly but the biggest hurdle is in scaling up efficiently,” Dr Amanda Parkes, Pangaia’s chief innovation officer, says. “[It] also depends on the larger global situation around investment and regulation to incentivise adoption of these new fabrics and developments.”

Ultimately, fashion needs to tackle the root problem: overproduction. “The whole industry must urgently tackle overproduction and its addiction to fossil fuels,” Harding-Rolls comments, adding that legislation will likely play an important role. “Targeting synthetic fibres will hurt the ultra-fast fashion, low-quality brands the most, making their business models unviable.”

Source Link

You may also like