If you’ve read my last post about Plastic-Free July, you probably know my focus on avoiding the top four popular items: coffee cups and straws, plastic bags, and water bottles. As I’ve been striving to follow this movement, I’ve begun to learn more about plastic and its effects in the world. Even in fashion, I think of how much plastic is embedded in materials and products. As supporter of sustainable fashion, I have to wonder, is there something fashion can do to manage plastic waste? This is what I found:
An article from Huffington Post, “Transforming Ocean Plastic Into Fashion,” brings to light the amount of waste we actually have and how some organizations have strived to counteract that. To put this in perspective, let me give you a few facts of how harmful plastic is to the oceans. It’s estimated that 20 million tons of plastic pieces enter the oceans every year, and there’s six times more plastic than phytoplankton. Small pieces of plastic, also known as “microplastics” collect ocean toxins including DDT, methyl-mercury, BPA, phalates, PCBs and flame-retardants. Single-use, disposable plastic bags that resemble jelly-fish are often eaten by sea turtles and cause the turtles to die from septicemia or blood poisoning that blocks their digestive system.
What can be done about this? Recycled polyester is one answer. According to Offset Warehouse, plastic bottles can be crushed into small chips, melted and stretched to form strings, passed through a crimping machine to create threads, and then the thread is woven into fabric. This seems to be a sustainability trend. Plastic Makes It Possible wrote about a vending machine that recycles plastic into t-shirts at New York Fashion Week, Ecouterre recently shared about the organization Naja who makes underwear and bras from recycled plastic bottles, and it has also been reported that Livia Firth, the co-founder of Eco Age, wore a gown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala made of 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. “RAW of the Oceans,” a line curated by Pharrell Williams, was also a collaboration of Bionic Yarn and the Vortex project, who created fibers from recycled plastic to make jeans.
This sounds great, but how does it compare to other recycled or organic fibers? I found my answer in Offset Warehouse, who points out that recycled polyester uses 33-53% less energy than regular polyester and it can be continually recycled. Recycled polyester also doesn’t require land to grow a crop so it can be produced or use gallons of water like cotton. It provides alternative options that natural fibers don’t have, which is surprising given that regular polyester has a bad reputation for being non-biodegradable and using harmful chemicals to produce it.
Does this mean recycled polyester is the golden child of all fibers? Even though I’ve researched a great deal and found a great deal of evidence to support recycled polyester, I still am not convinced this is the only answer to our plastic waste. As with anything in life, there needs to be moderation and balance. Recycling all of the plastic in the world doesn’t mean we can continue to consume all of the plastic we want and purchase all of the recycled polyester available to us. There are still plastics that cannot be recycled that end up in landfills and oceans. There still needs to be a reduction of the plastic we use and alternatives for plastic we cannot recycle. So, although I support recycled polyester, I definitely think there are some unanswered questions about plastics that need to be addressed.
What do you think about recycled polyester? What do you think can be done to reduce our plastic waste and use?