Tag Archives: Plastic

What Is The Future Of Recycled Plastic in Fashion?

Plastic waste
Plastic waste
Source: Wikimedia

Many of us want to be more ecologically conscious in our approach to reducing our carbon footprints. You might choose to buy sustainably sourced food, pick up litter on your jogging sessions – so-called plogging – or even aim to hit the jackpot at a mobile casino on your iPad rather than travel to a bricks and mortar one in a nearby city, for example. Regardless of the environmentally friendly decisions you may make in your daily life, what the world has been waiting for is better ways of reprocessing plastic. So much of it ends up in the ocean because it is not recycled. That which is successfully reprocessed has tended to been used to make low grade packaging which does not have a long onward life.

However, plastics can be recycled in more meaningful ways when they are used in the fashion industry. Can fashion really offer us methods to reuse plastic that will genuinely help to improve the environment for everyone? Read on to find out about some of the novel methods the fashion industry has developed for reprocessing used plastics.

Econyl Yarn

Designer Stella McCartney
Source: mainichi.jp

Nylon is used in the manufacturing processes of all sorts of garments for decades. The trouble is that so much of it has been in single-use products. However, an Italian company named Aquafil has come up with a Nylon-like yarn which can replace it entirely. The first major benefit of this is that no new petrochemicals are needed to make the yarn – it is entirely derived from recycled plastics. What’s even more important is that the material can be recycled once the garment it is in has come to the end of its usable life. In other words, a sustainable yarn that can be recycled and recycled. The material is already in use by swimsuit manufacturers, such as Adidas, Zoggs and Speedo. Econyl was also presented in Stella McCartney’s Summer Collection for 2019.

Smaller Brands Gain An Edge

Kelly Slater's Outerknown label
Source: Magicseaweed.com

Although there is certainly a welcome shift among the big clothing makers and major fashion designers, using recycled plastics in garments remains something that smaller fashion brands can harness to market themselves. Often more adaptable to micro-trends in the industry, smaller operators have often led the way in fashion ecology. This is certainly the case with recycled plastics in clothes.

For instance, Kelly Slater’s Outerknown label is one that may not be a household name around the world. However, it has gained a great deal of praise among ecologists and consumers alike for its use of found plastic waste in its range. Likewise, the ReNew collection for Everlane met with a great many favourable comments when it launched because it made use of water bottles as a source material. Everlane also committed to remove single-use plastics from its supply chain for things like packaging. The line includes puffers, fleeces and parkas, which are all remarkably natural in appearance and feel.

Elsewhere, small fashion brands like Insecta – an otherwise little-known footwear maker from Brazil – has gained notoriety for making new products without leather, using a combination of recycled plastic and rubber instead for its shoes. Patagonia, the outdoor wear brand, has also led the way with the use of recycled plastics in its fleeces. Not only are plastics repurposed by the company, but used garments can be returned to the firm for further recycling.

How Can You Help?

Plastic in the ocean
Source: Flickr

One of the most important ways you can help the world face up to the undoubted challenge of plastics entering the globe’s oceans and ending up in the food chain is to refrain from buying products with single-use plastics in them in the first place. This means no more one-off water bottles and buying vegetables in paper bags, not plastic ones. In addition, you can choose to purchase clothes, which are derived from recycled and recyclable man-made fibres. After all, fashion brands are certainly offering enough choice these days and they will continue to do so as long as the market for recycled plastic in garments makes financial sense. When you have finished with an item of clothing, don’t throw it out but make sure it is offered to a second-hand retailer or a charity shop.

If you are considering buying clothes and want to check out how ethical the brand you are choosing might be, then you can also check quite easily nowadays. Apps like Good On You and DoneGood rate global brands – including fashion ones – on things like their carbon footprints which help you to make an informed decision.

Cleaning Up the Oceans’ Plastic

The Ocean Cleanup making a difference
Source: GoPro

Through industrialisation, modernisation and technology, the human race has been polluting natural environments for hundreds of years. There are far too many examples of this, and we are continuously learning about the price we might have to pay, in the form of serious geological disasters.

Our oceans have been hit very badly, with the World Economic Forum recently predicting that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. Around 12.7 tonnes of the stuff are washed into the sea every year, where it seriously disrupts ecosystems, chokes marine life, damages shorelines and wrecks all kinds of other havoc.

The good news is that there are initiatives that are trying to improve the situation. One such organisation is The Ocean Cleanup (TOC). This Dutch NGO was founded by Boyan Slat in 2013, when he was just 18. Their ambitious goal is to use advanced technologies to remove plastic from the world’s oceans. And they are closer than ever to their first sojourn into doing just that.

Eliminating Pacific Garbage

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which floats on the currents between Hawaii and California and is roughly twice the size of France, is as terrible (in the true sense of the word) as it sounds. Sadly it is not the only garbage patch in our oceans (there are five) but it is the largest of these literal vortexes of trash.

TOC aims to have removed 90% of it by 2040, using a system of floating booms and support vessels. Essentially, natural currents will be used to corral the plastic into a system that is shallow enough (in theory, though this remains to be seen) to allow fish to swim underneath it and exist as normal.

The plastic will then be collected and recycled, creating new products that can be bought to support TOC. Collecting the material while it is still in large pieces is important, because once it has broken down into microplastic particles it can absorb toxic substances, and then travel up the food chain. So time is definitely of the essence here.

An ocean full of trash
Source: Maryna Uchuvatova

The Trial Phase Has Begun

TOC has just launched System 001 from San Francisco Bay, as a test-run before a full fleet is deployed. Being much closer to the shore, it will be easier to monitor, make adjustments, and test the floating boom system before heading off to the Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific.

The tests to be conducted include how easy the floating system is to assemble and get into place, how fast the vessels move and the ability of the system to right and re-orientate itself when there are changes in the wind or currents.

If System 001’s objectives are achieved, System 002 will set sail to undergo more assessments. When everything’s approved, a fleet of 60 Systems will head off on the clean-up mission. The hope is that this is just the beginning, and that other Garbage Patches can be tackled in the future.

Time on System 001 is expected to consist of long periods where nothing really happens, along with a few short bursts of excitement. But it is very necessary, and crewmembers will just have to keep themselves entertained by reading, playing at a casino online, or engaging in some other pastime.

Because although we need to be moving quickly, TOC is also eager to not make any mistakes. The entire project costs more than 21 million euros, so any errors would be financially as well as environmentally costly. And with Silicon Valley heavyweights such as Peter Theil (PayPal’s co-founder) and Marc Benioff (Chief Executive of Salesforce.com) lending support, the pressure is even greater.

Starbucks Gets Rid of Straws

Starbucks gives the environment a hand
Source: Pixabay

In July 2018, Starbucks announced its plans to eliminate single-use plastic straws by 2020. The coffee giant, who currently hands out more than 1 billion of the tubes a year, is to begin the transition in the fall of 2018.

Stores in Seattle and Vancouver will be the first to see the new regime. Many people are applauding the retailer’s decision and say it will be of great benefit to the environment, but some are not so sure.

Starbucks’ Goal is Sustainability

Chief Executive and President of the coffee chain, Kevin Johnson, has commented that the plastic straw phase-out is an important step in his company’s long-term aspiration to offer coffee that is produced and served in sustainable ways.

The no-straw movement has been gathering momentum for some years, and gained mainstream attention in 2015 thanks to a viral video of a sea turtle with one of the offending implements stuck in its nose. The fact that these straws can cause damage to marine life, via ingesting or getting strapped in them, is undeniable. As the plastic breaks down, harmful chemicals can also be released.

Erin Simon, Director of Sustainability Research & Development and Material Science at the World Wildlife Fund, welcomed news of the strategy and said she hoped other corporations would follow Starbucks’ example. Director of the Trash Free Seas programme at Ocean Conservancy, Nicholas Mallos, made similar comments.

Focusing on Eco-Friendly Solutions

The problem of plastic straws
Source: Wired

Under the new strategy, single-use straws will be replaced with lids that allow drinks to be sipped directly from the cup on all tea, espresso and iced coffee beverages. For Frappuccinos, tubes made of alternative materials will be used. This material could be made from compostable plastic of paper, and would be designed to be completely biodegradable.

Starbucks is the largest retailer to commit to this elimination so far, but it is by no means the only one. Hyatt Hotels plans to stop offering plastic tools to their guests, and McDonald’s will start using paper versions in outlets across the United Kingdom and Ireland in 2019.

All around the world businesses are focusing on going green, and whether it’s swapping driving to a land-based casino for playing online Roulette, recycling, or ditching the straw, it’s never been a better time to give the environment a helping hand.

Single-use straws have also been banned in some Walt Disney World theme parks, as well as Smithsonian Institute museums. And many local governments in the United States have passed laws restricting their use and distribution.

Bio Straws Still Problematic

Making the biodegradable tubes will cost more – and not only in terms of actual money. Their production is at least 5 times more expensive than their plastic counterparts, but the real issue here is that it also takes more fossil fuels and electricity to create.

The harmful effects of conventional straws are avoided, but more is taken from the earth, and more potentially polluting bi-products are created by going this route. In addition, paper products are not as recyclable as plastic ones, so more will have to be created.

A better idea, say some environmentalists, would be to focus on proper disposal. Everyone agrees that these plastic tubes must stop finding their way into the oceans, but care must be taken not to create more problems in solving this one.

Starbucks and other food and beverage retailers are, it could be argued, more interested in the response of their customers than in the long-term impact they are having on the earth. They know that their efforts to reduce single-use straws will be well received, which is expected to help generate more sales.

Whether or not biodegradable drinking tools are more sustainable, as the coffee giant claims is the main goal, remains to be seen. Rather than just changing the products we use, it seems human beings also need to look at changing their behaviour – and making sure they dispose of straws correctly, or buying non-disposable ones for personal use.