Clothes made from recycled plastic bottles aren’t really eco-friendly or sustainable
We know this sounds wrong - clearly stopping plastic bottles ending up in the ocean is a good thing and using recycled plastics is better than making virgin plastics. So surely this means that all those fashion brands using recycled plastics in their clothes are definitely doing the right thing? Unfortunately the answer is ‘not really’.
When it comes to sustainable clothing the important questions to ask are:
Could the recycled plastic be used more sustainably in other products?
– and –
Are there more sustainable fabrics we should be using instead of recycled plastics?
And the answer to both of these questions is very clearly ‘yes’.
Demand for recycled plastic far exceeds supply - largely because there are relatively few plastic products that can be affordably recycled. Amongst the worst for this is clothing with only 1% being recycled*. So, once recycled plastic is used to make clothing, then it’s on its way to being dumped in landfill or burned. Whereas if it’s used in another plastic bottle then it can be, and normally is, recycled again and again and again^.
And this isn’t the only problem with recycled plastics in clothing. The biggest problem is actually the smallest - microplastics. These tiny fibres are shed every time an item is washed or worn and, because they’re so small, they make it through filters and into the oceans, the air, the soil, our food and, ultimately, us. Millions are released in every wash meaning that plastic clothing dumps the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles into the ocean each year. It’s predicted that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans and clothing is the largest source of primary microplastic pollution†. And this is just as big a problem with recycled plastics as virgin ones.
Switching to organic, plant-based fibres solves these issues because they’re biodegradable - meaning the fibres won’t spend hundreds of years filling landfill or floating around the oceans.
So, if you care about ethical fashion, if you care about sustainability or if you’re looking for vegan fashion and thinking that recycled PET (rPET) is a good alternative to animal products, please think again and instead choose clothes that are 100% animal and plastic free.