Plastic: The Truth of Fashion's Hidden Catastrophe



Plastic in the clothes we wear


Plastic is a hidden catastrophe of the fashion industry. Awareness of fashion's contribution to plastic pollution is limited. Plastic bags, straws, packaging, and bottles all come to mind when thinking of plastic, but fashion is rarely mentioned. Plastic is in the majority of clothing we wear. Virgin plastics, newly created and non-recycled, amount to 63% of the materials used for fashion, with recycled materials accounting for less than 3%.


Plastic is woven into our clothing through polyester, nylon, acrylic and other synthetic fibres. Furthermore, washing these clothes sheds millions of plastic microfibres, travelling to our seas and oceans. These microfibres are thinner than strands of human hair and absorb toxic chemicals that can be ingested by marine animals and enter the food chain.


So, whilst early 2000s fashion trends such as jelly shoes and plastic bracelets no longer dominate, plastic is still highly prevalent in fashion today. The lack of knowledge surrounding our unethical consumption, means we are buying more plastic clothing at a fast rate. This consumption is further accelerated by half of fast fashion items being disposed of within one year, due to our 'throw-away' culture. The average consumer now buys 60% more clothing than they did 15 years ago.


Recycling is not the solution to fashion's hidden catastrophe


Recycling is usually the first port of call when trying to reduce the damage to our planet. However, recycling is not sufficient in ending the plastic fashion catastrophe. Plastic cannot be broken down as it is non-biodegradable, so all original plastic made, unless recycled into more plastic, is still on this earth in its original form.


Although recycling plastic is great in theory, it is not a practical answer. Effective recycling can only take place on pure plastics. It is often challenging and costly to recycle mixed plastics such as polycotton, or clothing items containing different fabrics. Additionally, low quality goods are the least successful for recycling and are discarded most frequently with the rise of fast fashion.


Despite recycling plastics being better than not recycling, reducing plastic in landfills, it still creates challenges. Plastic can often only be recycled twice before its quality reduces to an unusable point. Furthermore, microfibres will continue to shed from recycled plastics when repurposed into new clothing, entering our oceans. This contributes to the existing problem of plastic pollution, and shows recycling is not the ultimate solution. This is important as we cannot be fooled into thinking this makes clothes sustainable and we can buy an excess of them - instead recycling just delays the inevitable truth of fashion's hidden catastrophe.


Shop consciously to prevent plastic as fashion's hidden catastrophe


Firstly, do not buy excessively! Buying good quality, sustainable essentials will mean you have plenty everyday staples. The best thing we can do when we must consume clothes, is to stop buying plastic clothing. Buy from brands that are aware of their environmental impact to avoid contributing towards plastic pollution and fast fashion.


Organic clothing is also a good option, avoid buying polyester, and check clothing labels to ensure they do not contain plastic. These products, although potentially more expensive, will aim to last much longer than fast fashion products, meaning our necessary clothing consumption will be reduced. Brands that consider their environmental impact include Everlane, Lucy and Yak, Loomstate, Miakoda, Plant Faced, and Naiad. Switching to brands like these are a great place to start in being more environmentally conscious with our fashion habits.


Reducing the impact of plastic clothing we already own


To reduce the shedding of microfibres in clothes you already worn, try not to over wash your clothing. Contrary to what many of us our used to, most of our clothing does not need to be washed after every single wear. Also, when washing our clothes, using a wash bag such as a Guppy Bag or Coraball can be very helpful. The bag can collect the shedding microfibres during the washing process, whilst also helping your clothes last longer! This reduces the microfibres that end up in our oceans. Washing at low temperatures and filling the washing machine fully can reduce friction and aggression, further reducing the plastic microfibres.


When it comes to trying our clothes, the ideal method is avoiding a tumble dryer. If possible, air drying outside or on a drying rack is similarly less aggressive than a tumble dryer which also sheds microfibres from our clothes. Moreover, not only reducing plastic, avoiding a tumble drying reduces household energy used and CO2 emitted by dryers.


By air drying clothes the average household could reduce their carbon footprint by 2,400 pounds per year. This emphasises just how good this switch would be for the environment, for little inconvenience, and benefitting ourselves further by protecting our clothes from shrinking.