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Plastic Pollution Within the Fashion Industry. Inevitable or preventable?

Plastic pollution awareness tends to focus on the landfills filled with supermarket bags, soda bottles, and cigarette butts; however it is the silent killer of microfibres that are destroying the oceans by the second, the main producer, is the fashion industry.

Around eight billion barrels of oil are used to produce synthetic materials annually. Nylon and polyester are two of the major contributors that create products that most likely end up in landfill and take centuries to decompose. This shocking fact falls into the spiral that is the plastic pollution problem with the fashion industry. As the industry itself contributed more CO2 emissions in 2018 than France, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined, it really makes you sit down and think.

As brands begin their journey towards an environmentally friendly production process it raises problems with costs and the pricing sacrifices that becoming pollutant-free brings. So as the fast fashion industry booms and the pressures to shop sustainably weigh in, it pushes consumers into a internal fight between affordable or ecological purchasing.

The high fashion method

Stella McCartney has been a leading high fashion retailer since 2001, promising not to utilise real fur, leather, or feathers since the beginning according to Fashion Globe. However, as years have passed, retailers need to refocus all areas of their business to become more sustainable which Stella McCartney already started before most. Their policy with plastic fibres begun in 2012 with the introduction of recycled polyester within the lining of handbags and their recycled nylon stopping over ten tonnes of plastic waste entering the ocean. Stella McCartney has become a household name over the years and not solely due to the family heritage behind, but more their sustainable approach - before sustainability became trendy. This led to the collaboration with many pollution prevention initiatives and charities such as The New Plastics Economy . Hundreds of brands and companies signed onto their global commitment to complete by 2025 and involved the following objectives:

  • To work to eliminate the plastic items we do not need

  • Innovate so all plastics we do need are designed to be safely reused, recycled, or composted

  • Circulate everything we use to keep it in the economy and out of the environment

These initiatives have a chain reaction among the fashion community, with large brands such as Levi's and Ralph Lauren introducing methods to reduce plastic pollution and water waste to show how influential storm holders such as Stella McCartney can be, and how the plastic problem can be changeable.

The fast fashion way forward

The fast fashion industry has been a catalyst for the new age of wear and spare generation. The idea of wearing a singular piece of clothing more than once is unimaginable to the fast fashion industries target market. This new shopping habit, glamourised by its affordable and plentiful options has become a staple across the younger generation over lockdown more than ever.

Yet as the sustainable wave begins, fast fashion just grows stronger. Brands such as Zara and H&M are using perceived 'greenwashing' methods in order to appeal sustainable, however whenever it comes to reading between the lines, you see how extremely unethical and illegal, it is to do so. To name a few, H&M were called out for their ‘Circulose Fabric’, Primark were lambasted for their child labour laws, and Zara got in trouble with most of their suspected ‘sustainable methods’. Surely, it would be easier for the brands to introduce sustainable methods rather than spend a fortune on false advertisement?

The problem with fast fashion trying to become sustainable is the loss of the USP that is associated with their fast fashion name; affordability. boohoo, Missguided and Pretty Little Thing are a few fast fashion market leaders that sell clothes for as cheap as 99p, shipping them overnight in excessive plastic wrapping which is immediately thrown away.

Now, these brands have made little effort towards becoming sustainable as they understand the financial consequences if they were to do so; therefore, their method when it comes to plastic pollution is to simply ignore it. By sticking with their devoted consumers and relying on the efforts of other brands to cover the sustainable market, they get a free ride.

How can companies help the plastic problem?

A few simple methods have become effective in this field, for example switching up real nylon for ECONYL is a sustainable way of reusing plastic waste and a favourite for sustainable fashion leader Stella McCartney. Brands can also follow the circular loop method, bringing in processes that reuse plastic waste into items to resell, and by closing the gap in consumerism, it will aid in the process of sustainable methods becoming a production familiarity.

Small steps into reducing plastic waste for brands are better financially for fashion companies and a steppingstone for the environmental crisis as a whole. Fast fashion retailers will begin to feel the pressure once sustainable brands begin to lower costs in order to produce affordable clothing for the younger generations. However in the meantime, they still remain the market leaders in consumerism.

It’s never too late for brands to start, and now more than ever has it been prevalent.


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