The clothing industry is no stranger to finding ways to cut back on waste. From brands that are fighting fast fashion to clothing that is made out of natural materials, there are many ways the clothing industry is trying to become more sustainable.
One of the most recent strategies eco-friendly fashion brands are using is constructing clothing out of recycled plastic bottles. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Instead of overflowing the landfills with plastic bottles that take hundreds of years to decompose, we can use those bottles to make clothing!
It does sound like a great solution on the surface, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover that clothing made from recycled plastic bottles isn’t the answer. It actually has the potential to do even more damage to our planet than simply dumping those bottles into a landfill.
Microplastics and increased plastic production
There are multiple brands that create their clothing out of plastic bottles, and their efforts should be commended. Making comfortable clothing out of plastic bottles isn’t easy, and they have good intentions. They want to take a big problem and find a solution.
For example, Girlfriend Collective makes some seriously stylish leggings out of water bottles. Vitamin A recycles nylon fibers and plastic from bottles to make swimwear. More brands are created every day as people demand more accountability from clothing companies.
But, let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?
Ignoring the fact that much of this clothing will eventually end up in the landfill, which is where the plastic bottles would have ended up anyway, let’s talk about what happens when you wash those leggings in the washing machine or you jump into the ocean in that swimming suit.
Every time you agitate a garment in water, microfibers are released. This isn’t a problem if those fibers are made out of organic materials, like cotton, hemp and linen. If those fibers are made out of nylon, polyester, and plastic bottles, it’s a huge problem. These fibers enter our waterways and decompose at the same rate that they would in the landfill, which means they are getting ingested by sea life. It directly affects us too. Microplastics are ingested by animals that enter our food chain, which means we also end up ingesting them.
It’s not a little problem either. A single pair of leggings made out of plastic bottles can release 700,000 fibers in just one wash. One wash!
Some companies are trying to help. For example, Girlfriend Collective has a microfiber filter, and you can find a Cora Ball to trap microfibers in the wash, but then what? Eventually, you’ll have to dispose of the filter or the ball. It will end up in the landfill where fibers will still get into our waterways.
That doesn’t get into the fact that melting plastic bottles to create the fibers used in the clothing can be bad for the environment too. When plastic is burned, it releases hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, dioxins, furans, heavy metals, and particulates. Not only are we poisoning the ocean with microplastics, we’re poisoning the air with dangerous chemicals.
This is in addition to the fact that making clothing out of plastic often creates more plastic. For example, if you order a recycled piece of clothing online, guess what it’s packaged in—plastic!
What is the solution to our plastic problem?
Does that mean you should never buy clothes out of plastic bottles? Yes and no.
Clothing that is washed frequently, like leggings and swimsuits, shouldn’t be made out of plastic fibers. That includes clothing made from water bottles, but it includes synthetic materials too, like polyester, nylon, and acrylic.
For clothing that doesn’t get washed on a regular basis, plastic fibers are usually okay. That includes things like coats and shoes. Saola shoes are just one example.
However, you can have the biggest impact by choosing to buy clothing and accessories out of natural materials. Houdini is a great example of a clothing brand that is using all-natural materials in the manufacture of their clothing, which means their clothing is completely biodegradable.
Just can't give up your synthetic fiber habit? Primaloft is a new fabric made out of synthetic fibers that are biodegradable!
Progress is slow, but it is happening as we think deeply about where our clothing comes from and where it ends up. With a little forethought, you can buy truly eco-friendly, biodegradable clothing that will have a positive impact on the environment.