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How to Cull Plastic Waste Associated with Fashion: Earth Day 2023


In the run up to Earth Day 2023, we once again shine a light on the fashion industry and whether or not it is making the successful inroads necessary to cut its plastic reduction and ultimately limit its impact on the environment. 

A report by WIRED earlier this year highlighted some pretty alarming statistics. Annually, “the industry uses 342 million barrels of petroleum to produce plastic-based fibres such as polyester, nylon or acrylic…equating to 1.35 per cent of global oil consumption.” 

As the ongoing energy crisis has highlighted, the longevity of oil is drastically decreasing. While major steps have been, and continue to be taken to reduce the industry’s dependency on plastic, the sheer quantity of items being produced makes this task ever more complex. 

Currently the fashion industry is producing more than double the amount of clothing that it was back at the turn of the millennium. Let’s take a look at some of the issues present and how you, as a consumer, can combat it, and transform your wardrobe into one that’s plastic-free. 

Hangers, packaging, and trigger happy throwaways

There are various different things, beyond the actual production of the clothes, that are significantly contributing to the plastic waste associated with the fashion industry. 

Research by sustainable material manufacturers Arch & Hook detail that more than 128 billion plastic hangers are used globally every year – to put that into perspective, that equates to approximately 18 hangers per person. Worryingly, the vast majority of these hangers end up in landfill. 

Packaging is also an issue – back in 2018 fashion associated packaging waste generated 174.1kg per person in the EU. Of course, the pandemic extenuated the issue with the mass uplift in online shopping. 

And, of course, the growing popularity of the fast fashion industry and consumers’ one wear and throw habits are additional ingredients of booming plastic waste – the global market of fast fashion is expected to grow to $133.43 billion in 2026, up from $91.23 billion in 2021. 

Post-COP developments

Most of the pledges made by global fashion leaders back in November 2021 focused around the acceleration of material innovation and increased exploration and implementation of circularity – a framework that effectively manages waste.

That said, a Vogue Business report earlier in the year noted: “despite the interest in and emphasis placed on sustainable fashion, the industry as a whole has made little tangible progress this year. Emissions continue to increase, circularity remains elusive, next-gen textiles have yet to scale.”

What we are seeing however is businesses making a real conscious effort to commit to sustainability, going far beyond simply offering customers a reusable carrier bag as part of their shopping experience. Beauty brand Glossier is one such example of a business who has taken the concept of reusable packaging in their stride, providing customers with the ‘pink pouch’ for future usage in whatever way they please. 

At this year’s Met Gala, celebrities like Camilla Cabello and Billie Eilish sported sustainable looks, with the latter choosing to don a pair of Nike Air Force 1 made from recycled nubuck. The celebrities’ choice to dress eco-first is something which is being actively supported by luxury fashion brands – LVMH has joined the ‘circular fashion wave’ with Nona Source while style magazine reports: “Burberry and Stella McCartney have partnered with authenticated luxury consignment marketplace, The RealReal, encouraging their customers to extend the life of their products through resale.”

On one hand, there’s a lot going on within the industry – on the other, it doesn’t seem quite enough and there’s an onus on the customer, rather than just the brand, to take the next step towards sustainability. According to research from ING: “at least six in ten (61%) global consumers say they would be less willing to buy a company’s product if they found it performed poorly on environmental practices, a new survey has revealed.”

So, now for the important bit – what are the simple things you can do to cut the waste associated with your wardrobe…

Shop recycled brands

It may seem pretty self-explanatory but shopping with brands that use 100 percent recycled polyester in their products is undoubtedly the most effective solution to drive down the plastic waste associated with your fit. You’re not confined to niche market stall traders either, big names brands have committed to immersing themselves in fully recycled materials.

Hold off on the next spin

Just to clarify, we’re not suggesting that you let your clothes get dirty beyond the point of repair or to the stage that they smell pungent but, by refraining from washing them after every use, you can effectively maintain the fibres and extend the usable life of the product. Bring out the sniff test if you have to. 

Cull the the tumble dryer (if you can)

The tumble dryer is an amazing appliance to have in the home but we tend to overuse it and call upon its help incorrectly when drying certain garments. To avoid shredding the microfibres, drying naturally is the way to go. 

Develop a capsule wardrobe

What better way to limit the amount of items you need than to strategically plan your wardrobe formation. 

According to sustainably-chic.com, a capsule wardrobe is: “limited selection of interchangeable clothing pieces that complement each other. These are often classic pieces that do not go out of style and are primarily composed of neutral colours.”

Choose your  base colour, your black, grey, navy – this is what makes up the base layer and will form the foundations of each outfit. Try to choose the likes of jeans, skirts, and trousers in these notes. You’ll need between 2-3 base layers.

Then add your accent colours – these are your more colourful items that’ll help bring life to your wardrobe and complement your other pieces of clothing. Between 3 and 5 accent colours will suffice. Finally, let’s call upon the patterns – the added extra that brings necessary variety to your style. With patterns, we’d propose 2-3 again. So, there you have it, a minimalist, yet effective, sustainable wardrobe. Then, a simple pair of sneakers will make all the difference – take a pair of Converse for example.

Here we’ve detailed just some of the ways in which you can drive down the waste associated with your wardrobe – what other tactics are you currently employing?

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