Small changes Sustainability Insights Zero waste DIYs

By recycling bottles into tees, your favourite juice brand is doing more harm than good

Clothing made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) water bottles, ocean plastic, and other “upcycled” plastic sources has been getting a lot of encouragement and support recently. Many of us fall prey to the trap of thinking we’re making a responsible choice by supporting these businesses. While in reality, clothing made of plastics (of any kind) render more harm to the environment and our planet than good.

To transform into clothing, plastic is broken down into pellets, heated into a viscous plastic-y liquid and spun into fibre. The same fibre we’ve all known for years to be wrecking havoc to our planet – polyester. Part of the slow-fashion revolution is based on the principle – Clothes made of polyester (or any other synthetic fibre) are not earth friendly.

Turning plastic into clothing doesn’t take away the plastic from our ecosystem. It simply breaks it down into untraceable bits.

@sustainablyslow

When clothes made of synthetic fibres are washed, they shed microfibres that break down into smaller and smaller plastics that are infinitely harder to filter and collect. Dr. Mark Browne, an ecologist at the University of New South Wales and world-leading expert on microfibres, published a paper in Environmental Science & Technology stating that a single synthetic garment can produce more than 1,900 fibres per wash.

These microfibres are one of the largest threats to ocean health. They enter not only our waterways but also get consumed by fish and marine life, in turn entering our food chain. Eventually humans end up consuming these micro plastics. A study by University of New Castle and the World Wildlife fund reports we eat an average of 5 grams of microplastics per week.

That’s a little over 250 grams a year.

I am always in support of the idea of lowering our impact and of companies and people working towards it. Maybe the companies making and marketing plastic clothing products do not understand the complexities of Systems Science.

But oftentimes, they are intentionally taking advantage of a trend. 

The use of non-reactive packaging such as glass and plastic to preserve the nutritional value is understandable. They claim plastic was chosen over glass to reduce the carbon footprint from a higher energy consumption during transportation. But no information is presented comparing this fuel energy consumption to that of plastic bottles. Nor has it been compared to the energy spent in manufacturing t-shirts.

When PET bottles can be recycled and turned into new bottles at least ten times, why is there no mention of the same on their website?

Let’s assume the cost to recycle the bottles is excessively high. Recycling them into products is the only sensible option. But why wearables like t-shirts? Why not accessories like bags, shoes or bracelets that don’t get washed after each use? Why not pen holders and storage baskets that, perhaps, require no washing at all?

Clothing made from “upcycled” plastic, despite good intentions, is not at all a sustainable solution.

@sustainablyslow

It is completely okay to manufacture merchandise. Brands have been doing it for decades. What’s not okay is to present profit-seeking merchandising efforts as sustainable or environmental pursuits.

We ought not to patronise such stunts with our money.

I urge you all to please always research companies and products that claim to be “sustainable”. Greenwashing and painting a sustainable picture online/on social media through messaging is not only dangerously misleading but also practically free in the absence of appropriate policies.

We must choose to support companies that embrace environmental practices through design, supply chain infrastructure, and at the end-of-life stage of their products.


2 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing! This makes sense of course, but I hadn’t taken time to make the connection and understand the effects of washing those pieces.

    Like

    1. While researching, I came across so many facts and insights on how huge the problem of microplastics is. They’re on our food, water and even the air we breathe. And they’re so small (fibres less than 5mm in length) that we ingest them without realising. It is scary

      Like

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