Polyester clothes made from recycled plastic bottles are ‘adding to fashion’s waste crisis’ and ‘flooding the natural environment with plastics’, according to campaigners.
The Changing Markets Foundation, with plastic pollution campaigning organisation City to Sea, says the use of recycled bottles for clothing is an environmentally ‘destructive’ practice that also allows brands to ‘greenwash their collections’.
High-street retailer H&M reported that 90% of its recycled polyester comes from single-use plastic bottles while most companies (85%) examined indicated they aim to achieve their recycled polyester targets by using polyester from downcycled PET bottles. Retailers like Nike, H&M, Primark and Zara’s parent group, Inditex, all use single-use plastic bottles to meet demand for synthetic polyester, according to the campaigners.
With their carefully marketed green credentials unravelling fast, brands are clinging to recycled bottles for clothes to distract consumers from their inherently unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels for fibre
George Harding-Rolls, Campaigns Adviser at the Changing Markets Foundation commented, saying: “Sustainability isn’t something big business can slip on and off like the latest fashions. It must be woven into every level of their operations.
“With their carefully marketed green credentials unravelling fast, brands are clinging to recycled bottles for clothes to distract consumers from their inherently unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels for fibre.
“If fashion brands are serious about reducing their environmental impact, they should stop the charade of downcycling plastic bottles into clothes and instead focus on cutting their addiction to fossil fuels and curbing overproduction”.
A new video released today claims the practice of turning PET plastic bottles into clothing is ‘greenwashing’. The campaigners state that:
- once turned into clothing the plastic cannot be recycled further and ‘will instead be thrown away’. They say this means clothes are on a ‘one-way route’ to landfill, incineration, or being dumped in nature.
- turning plastic bottles into clothes removes them from circular recycling loops where they can be made into new bottles again. Plastic bottles can be collected to be recycled multiple times, reducing the amount of virgin plastic needed, or to be refilled which helps to cut reliance on single-use plastic.
- recycled plastic going into synthetics does nothing to help stop the wider problem of microplastics, they say. Billions of tiny plastic particles that shed from clothing during manufacturing, wearing and washing still end up polluting the ocean and our bodies through the air we breathe and the food and drink we consume. They say companies should be instead reducing reliance on synthetic fibres at source.
- brands ‘token use’ of recycled synthetics is just a drop compared to the industry’s reliance on virgin plastics, they say. Production of these fibres, derived from oil and gas, has exponentially increased fibres over the last 20 years. The campaigners say that the use of recycled synthetics ‘distracts’ consumers from the deeper problem of fashion brands’ entrenched reliance on fossil fuels.
- making fashion from plastic bottles is ‘just another greenwashing tactic by brands to encourage people to buy more of what they don’t need and the planet can’t afford’.
The video comes off the back of the report by the Changing Markets Foundation ‘Synthetics Anonymous Fashion brands’ addiction to fossil fuels’, which investigated nearly 50 major fashion brands.
It suggests how cheap synthetic fibres are not only harmful because they enable low-quality clothing that ends up in waste, but they also perpetuate the fashion industry’s dependence on fossil-fuel extraction during a climate emergency. Microplastics also emerged as a ‘critical blind spot’ for most brands.
The report suggests the vast majority of brands were found to be ‘asleep at the wheel’ when it comes to microplastics, delaying meaningful action by citing uncertainty and calling for even more research.
The solution for consumers though is simple; buy less, and when you do buy, support the reuse economy
By pushing recycling of bottles into fibre, brands may even be worsening microfibre release by fragmenting larger plastics into synthetic fibre which can leak more easily into the environment, the campaigners say.
Jo Morley, Head of Marketing and Campaigns at City to Sea added: “This new video exposes two problems here and one solution that no one is yet talking about. The environmental impact of fast fashion is huge, as is our obsession with single-use plastics like water bottles.
“The solution for consumers though is simple; buy less, and when you do buy, support the reuse economy. For water bottles, this means carrying reusable bottles and refilling them, and for clothes, this means buying, when you need to, second-hand pre-loved clothing.”