Which Is The Lesser of Two Evils, Dumping Plastic or Reusing It In Fabric?

Could "breaking a plastic bottle into millions of fibrous bits of plastic prove to be worse than doing nothing at all"?

We all know that plastic is currently a big problem. It never breaks down. When dumped in landfills it ends up releasing heavy metals into our soil and groundwater. That is why when we heard about brands reusing plastic to create fabric we got excited. The idea of taking our waste and making use of it sounded like the ideal solution, until now.

Plastic pollution

Last year, an article published in the Guardian stated that “Breaking a plastic bottle into millions of fibrous bits of plastic might prove to be worse than doing nothing at all.” The statement seemed to be directed at the efforts being made by companies like Patagonia and Polartec who have found a way of conserving and reducing waste by recycled plastic bottles. The Guardian’s argument was based on research that indicated that ‘reused’ plastic might ultimately end up in the oceans anyway, and maybe cause even worse problems than if the plastic had been left well alone.

Bionic Yarn

So the question now is, should we continue to support collaborative projects like Bionic Yarn x G-Star RAW? If you think about it, it is quite amazing how they have found a way to design and create a denim collection woven with yarn made from 45% recycled plastic material from the oceans. The other 55% is a mixture of cotton, wool and nylon, which creates the desired feel of denim. I think it is great that  Bionic Yarn have found a way to remove large amounts of plastic from the sea, but the irony is that when these garments are washed the microfibre particles end up back in the ocean.

For those who do not know, microfibers are tiny threads that are shed from fabric. According to the IUCN report, the amount of microplastics currently in the ocean equates to 212 grams of plastic per person. To put it in the simplest of terms, it is an amount equal to if every human on earth threw a conventional plastic shopping bag into the ocean per week.

Adidas and Parley for the Ocean design ocean plastic trainers

Suporting IUCN’s report, is a study by researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Their study, funded by Patagonia, found that microfibre particles are poisoning our waterways and food chain on a massive scale. According to their findings, an average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash and “these microfibers travel to your local wastewater treatment plant, where up to 40% of them enter rivers, lakes and oceans.” Their findings also highlight that the biggest problem is that synthetic microfibers are “particularly dangerous because they have the potential to poison the food chain. The fibers’ size also allows them to be readily consumed by fish and other wildlife. These plastic fibers have the potential to bioaccumulate, concentrating toxins in the bodies of larger animals, higher up the food chain.”

Also Read: Buying into Sustainable Fashion To Dye For!

With washing accounting for 30% of a garments ecological footprint, I am left wondering, which is the lesser of two evils? Are collaborations like Adidas x Parley contribution to the current problem of plastic pollution hindering the efforts? I do not think so. I think that the answer is that there is no perfect solution. In the end it all comes down to fashion label’s being open to using fabric that makes the least impact. The solution for now is the clothing industry’s willingness to use the latest scientific findings, such as high performance eco-yarn. Also, it is important that consumer behaviour is changed for the better. This can be done through education, that helps them choose natural fabrics over synthetic ones.

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Founding Editor in Chief at FashNerd.com | editor@fashnerd.com | Website

Founding editor-in-chief of FashNerd.com, Muchaneta is currently one of the leading influencers writing about the merger of fashion with technology and wearable technology. She has also given talks at Premiere Vision, Munich Fabric Start and Pure London, to name a few. Besides working as a fashion innovation consultant for various fashion companies like LVMH Atelier, Muchaneta has also contributed to Vogue Business, is a senior contributor at The Interline and an associate lecturer at London College of Fashion, UAL.