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Plastic free fashion part.2
On this second part of her Plastic Free article, Gaia from @ssustainably_ digs deeper into recycling and introduces to us other sustainable options when talking about plastic and fashion.
This is Gaia from @ssustainably_ and I am back with the second part of my Plastic Free Fashion article! Last time, I introduced the benefits and drawbacks of using recycled synthetics. This time, I will explore the specifics of synthetics (don’t worry I won’t get too sciency) and discuss how we can best combine style, performance and sustainability.
Digging deeper into recycling
Most of the recycled plastic used in fashion is made of a material called polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET. This material is not only used to make garments but also bottles and packaging. It’s strong but flexible and lightweight and more than half of the world’s synthetic fibres are made from it.
There are two ways to recycle materials, one is mechanical and one is chemical. Most PET is recycled mechanically by grinding the recovered plastic into tiny pellets that are heated and turned into a viscous liquid. That liquid is then spun into yarns that can be turned into pretty much anything. Is it any better for the environment? Well, as I mentioned in my previous article there are reductions in CO2 emissions, savings that come from the fact that the material already exists.
One issue with this type of recycling is that each time a piece of plastic is ground up, melted, then reformed, the material weakens so a mechanically-recycled plastic garment will degrade faster than one made from virgin plastic. For this reason some brands like Patagonia is recycling plastic chemically, meaning that the material is broken down into its original chemicals before being turned into something new. This is more expensive but it maintains the quality and performance of the virgin material.
Benefits of recycled PET
The good thing about plastic (if any) is that it’s very versatile. Indeed, recycled PET (rPET) can be found in swimwear, shoes and even jackets.
For example, TheMinu chose to use rPET to create activewear! Their products are made from Econyl which is recycled nylon made by the Italian firm Aquafil that recovers fishing nets found in the ocean and other industrial waste and turns them into fabrics. The good thing about this material (other than the fact that it reduces waste from oceans) is that this fiber is recyclable forever. So in theory, it will never become waste as it can always be transformed into something else.
TheMinu’s founder, Alessandra Albertini, thinks that performance-wear can be made entirely from recycled materials without losing quality (win-win!), but a recycled plastic garment is still more expensive than one that’s made from virgin materials…
Despite this, she thinks that popularity for more eco friendly garments should increase as we all realise its added value and will consequently be willing to pay more for garments of better quality and better for the planet.
We need transparency!
I like the idea of reusing materials that already exist, even if it’s plastic, with the hope that we will soon be able to shift away from synthetics. Although there is one aspect of recycled garments that is often overlooked: the human side of the recycled plastic supply chain.
I had the opportunity to speak to the ORfoundation that’s working to bring more transparency to the waste created by the fashion industry and support those that are impacted by it. During our talk, I learnt that as more and more fashion brands are using recycled ocean plastic, it is now being intentionally dumped in the sea because waste pickers can earn more money for ocean plastic than for other recovered plastic waste! This discovery shocked me as it defeats the whole purpose of recycling as more plastic might end up in oceans this way.
Also, most plastic found in the ocean is often too degraded to be recycled. This side of the industry is often ignored but is important to consider. Circular strategies are great and definitely a great step forward but there is a lot to take into account: more transparency is needed in order to make sure brands’ circular strategies are also socially sustainable.
I personally choose recycled plastic clothing when it comes to performance wear which is hard to be replaced with natural materials… For everything else, my motto is secondhand over new and prioritise natural materials!
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