Plastic has become an integral part of our lives, and currently, the over-use of the material is causing a crisis impact on our environment.
Shockingly, every piece of plastic that has ever been produced still exists somewhere on our planet today. Most likely, these pieces have been dumped into either a landfill site or into the ocean, left to slowly decompose over several decades and centuries – if at all. This plastic waste releases toxic chemicals that contaminate the eco-systems and organisms around them. As the waste is consumed by the sea life, this in turn pollutes the food chain, even ending up in the food we ourselves consume.
Plastic pollution in our clothing
A major source of this pollution is the fashion industry. Our clothes are causing a lot more harm than we think.
Plastic fashion has become a lot more common than we realise. Around 60% of our clothes contain synthetic fibres, which are a form of plastic. The most common and harmful of these are polyester, nylon and acrylic, which are heavily prevalent in the clothing produced by fast fashion retailers. Polyester in particular is favoured by manufactures for its convenience and affordability, which seems to outweigh the extremely damaging impact it has on our environment.
Every time we wash our ‘plastic’ clothes, millions of these synthetic plastic fibres are released into the water supply, eventually ending up in the ocean. And it’s not just washing clothes which sheds microfibres – these fall off the clothes even when we’re wearing them and moving about.
Yet despite this issue being so pressing, most people aren’t even aware that so much of our clothing contains so much plastic. Alarmingly, research has shown that only 45% of people are aware of this fact.
What can we do?
We all have a role to play in resolving this crisis of plastic pollution.
Many brands have already begun making impactful changes by making more ethical production choices. Retailers such as Zara and Puma have completely scrapped using plastic packaging and use recyclable and reusable natural materials instead. Meanwhile, Mango has vowed that by 2025, 100% of the cotton used in their garments will be sustainable, and that they will increase their use of recycled polyesters to 50%.
As consumers, we must also change our fashion habits. This begins with us becoming more conscious of what’s in our wardrobes and what the implications of each of our decisions are. What exactly are our clothes made out of? Are we spending our money wisely on items that are environmentally friendly and durable? How can we begin to make more eco-friendly fashion choices?
How to reduce your wardrobe's plastic footprint
Recognising the importance of dressing more sustainably is the first step. Then follows the decision to start breaking your harmful habits. But knowing exactly where to start and what exactly to do can initially be a bit daunting. After all, plastic is everywhere, and we are all so comfortable in our routines that it can be a bit difficult to begin to bring about that change.
Here are some ways to get you started on your journey to crafting a more sustainable wardrobe:
Read the label:
Whenever you’re buying something, read the label, and understand what the item is made of. Look for natural fibres, or try and make sure the plastic percentage is low.
Try and chose more natural and eco-friendly materials, such as: cotton, hemp, cashmere, linen, silk, organic wool, and even viscose. These are much better alternatives to synthetic plastics such as polyester, acrylic and nylon.
Choose quality over quantity:
Less is more. Invest in some high-quality, sustainable pieces that you know you will wear again and again, instead of falling into the trap of fast fashion binge shopping. Spend time thinking about how to style each of the items with one another, and with what you already have in your wardrobe. At first it may seem like you’re spending more money this way. But over time you will have bought less in quantity and will own better-quality, long-lasting pieces that you won’t get bored of.
Reuse and recycle:
In the words of Emma Watson, "Every new item of clothing made has a substantial carbon footprint attached to its manufacturing, but the amount of new energy needed to produce vintage clothing is zero”. Having a sustainable wardrobe doesn’t just mean you should go and buy new clothes made from natural and organic materials. You should firstly be making the most of what you already own. If synthetic clothing exists already – then it makes sense to get as much use out of each item as possible and prolong its life-cycle. And so this means making good use of the items already in your wardrobe, taking proper care of them, and donating or recycling them when you no longer need them.
Shop second-hand and vintage:
There are so many items of clothing out there that are in great condition, are high-quality and might be exactly what you are looking for – but have been scrapped by their previous owner for whatever reason. And so shopping second-hand or vintage is an incredibly sustainable option, as it can prevent so many items from going to waste. Second-hand shopping platforms like Depop and Vinted are now becoming increasingly popular and giving high street retail shops some good competition.
Wash clothes at a temperature lower than 30°C, and reduce the spin speed. This is less aggressive and causes less plastic microfibres to be released from the clothing. An added bonus is also that it will also reduce your energy consumption and help you to save on your bills!
Remember - it isn't necessary to commit to all of these suggestions for dressing sustainably right away. And it isn't necessary to make dramatic changes in order to make a significant difference. Simply being conscious of what you're wearing is the right place to start. Even simply extending the lifespan of an item of clothing by just nine months can reduce its carbon footprint by as much as 30%!