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Are Garments Made From Recycled Plastics a Trojan Horse?

Plastic waste is undoubtedly a scourge on the human race and a thorn in the side of the planet. All the plastic that has ever been produced still exists today and will not biodegrade for up to 1,000 years! Just think of all that plastic.

It is a no brainer that we must find safe alternative uses for our plastic waste. In recent years, since the fight against plastic waste has become so important, It is only logical that fashion brands new and old have rushed to incorporate this plastic waste into their materials, touting their wares as the product of thoughtful and innovative effort.

“It is going to be next to impossible for a business to be competitive without also being ‘eco-efficient – adding more value to a good or service while using fewer resources and releasing less pollution” – Stephan Schmidheiney

However, the use of plastic waste in garment manufacturing may be misguided. The fibers in plastic bottles contain toxins such as antimony which is a heavy metal and suspected carcinogen, ultraviolet stabilisers which are compounds resistant to degradation, water soluble and toxic to aquatic organisms and according to Mark G. Cantwell… Robert M. Burgess, “should be considered contaminants of emerging concern in the environment with persistent organic pollutant characteristics”. These types of plastics also contain plasticisers and antioxidants that were never designed to lie on human skin.

Every time a garment produced with recycled plastic is washed it sheds a number of plastic fibers. With little knowledge of these plastics in the wider industry, washing machines are yet to be fitted with filters to capture these fibers so they make their way through the sewage system and into the oceans, causing further human damage to marine life.

As stated in Michael Braungart and William McDonough’s 2008 book Cradle to Cradle, it is not enough to simply be “less bad”. It is time to be GOOD. That being said, however to do this is going to require a completely different mode of thinking to how our industry has so far functioned - act now and potentially pay the price later. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, ‘we cannot solve our current problems with the same thinking that created them’.

In this case, knowledge is our best friend. We must nurture it, listen to it and find out everything we can so we can move forward in the best, safest way possible, to finally see the fashion industry as truly environmental - a phrase that has thus far been thrown around freely and without any true definition of what sustainable, environmentally friendly fashion really is.


Stephan Schmidheiny Inaugural Honorary Chairman of The World Business Council for Sustainable Development

Cantwell, Mark G., J. Sullivan, AND Robert M. Burgess. Benzotriazoles: History, Environmental Distribution, and Potential Ecological Effects

Michael Braungart and William McDonough Cradle to Cradle


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