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Why recycled plastic won’t rescue our planet

recycled plastic

Recycled plastic seems to be the latest hype in the fashion industry. While it seems like a gesture to our planet, it actually isn’t. Discover why it doesn’t contribute to saving our precious planet.

Cover photo: © Unsplash

Recycled plastic

“This coat is made of 200 plastic bottles”, a sentence that sounds familiar to many in the fashion industry. Ocean plastic seems to be the main trend and the hot topic of today. While disapproving the production of single use plastic bottles, we proudly wear garments made from waste.

Recycled plastic materials signal a solution to the overall pollution in the world, right? Well, it’s not as simple as that. Earlier, High Snobiety already asked the question: “How sustainable is recycled plastic actually?” Let’s figure it out.

recycled plastic
recycled plastic

PET

First of all, what is PET? PET is the mostly used material when we talk about recycled plastic. Polyethylene terephthalate is used to make bottles, textiles and other materials. Shortly explained, it gets solid when cold and liquid when hot. Furthermore, it’s very strong and flexible, which makes it highly in demand.

There is a silver lining, since PET is easily recyclable. When recycling PET, the material first gets cleaned and grounded into thin plates. Then it’s heated to make it liquid. From this point, it can be made into anything: from polyester to bottles to anything else.

How sustainable can plastic be?

While recycling seems a step in the right direction, it surely isn’t as life saving as we think. Since the invention of plastic in 1907, more than 8 billion metric tons of it have been produced. More than 6 tons of this amount was waste and only 9% has been recycled, according to Fast Company, yet another 12% got burnt. The other 79% sits in landfills and wanders around in our ocean.

recycled plastic
recycled plastic

For decades, recycled materials – especially plastics – weren’t of good quality. This holds for plastic in particular; it wasn’t as strong as in its new form. Because of the high demand, recycled plastic got perfected by its producers and is now stronger than ever before.

However, this isn’t just a good thing; some experts don’t believe it’s the solution the plastic crisis needs. At first, there isn’t enough recycled plastic in the world. Demand became higher and higher, since consumers have high expectations concerning sustainability. On top of that, producers like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola aim to use recycled PET materials as well.

And while this shortage might sound as a good thing, most of the time it’s actually part of the marketing strategy of these ‘conscious’ fashion labels. Simply put, recycled plastic is cheaper to produce than its virgin kind. Because the fashion industry uses the largest part of the available recycled plastic, the industry makes this kind of plastic less attractive for other industries. At their turn, these other industries are forced to use other, less sustainable materials.

Furthermore, plastic is just one of the many problems. Where plastic bottles and PET can be recycled almost indefinitely, clothes made form recycled plastic simply can’t. This means that your sustainable and recycled plastic coat will end up in a landfill after you ‘recycle’ it.

recycled plastic
recycled plastic

Alternative actions

How can sustainable fashion retailers contribute to a better planet? The answer is simple: sustainable brands should sell less. This may sound counterintuitive, but it is the one and only truth. On top of that, plastic is just one single material, while companies should rather look at their carbon emissions, chemicals and water usage. Material choice is just one part of the (not so sustainable) whole.

The key solution lies in the way companies should organize themselves in order to sell less with rising or equal profits.

Sustainable initiatives

Luckily, there are other initiatives as well. Patagonia recently launched a new collection, called Wornwear. Within this recrafted collection, they solely develop new clothes from discarded clothes:

Created from thousands of used garments diverted from the landfill, sorted and salvaged at our Reno Repair Center, designed in collaboration with a woman who sees only potential in the things left behind, and finally deconstructed and sewn in Los Angeles Suay Sew Shop —this collection shows the true force of what radical acts of imagination can become.

And Patagonia isn’t the only one. Fashion designer Ronald van der Kemp solely purchases vintage garments and discarded fabrics from high end brands. Likewise, designer Duran Lantink uses “dead stock” as the main input for his new designs. After a successful collaboration with Browns, he highlighted the importance of recycling fashion, not just plastic bottles.

Luckily, people are getting more and more awake. During last season’s London Fashion Week, protestors covered in blood dominated the streets of uptown London. They protested against the fashion industry in general, stating:

The fashion industry is killing our planet. Every year, every month, every week you abuse this earth, to produce clothes for profit and pleasure, not for need. You choose profit over plant, profit over people, profit over our future.

Sustainable shopping

Looking for sustainable alternatives to your recycled plastic hoodie? Then check out Ronald van der Kemp, Duran Lantink, Ikigai Labels and 1OFF/Paris.

If you truly want to live your life more sustainably, then you’ve got 2 things to do: buy less and recycle more. May the future be sustainable.

You will also like: In conversation with sustainable fashion designer Ronald van der Kemp

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