Why Recycled Plastic Clothing Will Be the Next Big Ethical Fashion Trend


Photo by Copper Bottom Swim

There’s no sugar-coating it, we are in the midst of an unprecedented environmental turning point. Our CO2 emissions and over-reliance on disposable plastics have had drastic consequences for the planet and the myriad species that inhabit it. If we don’t change our ways now, it could spell bad news for humanity. 

Contrary to popular belief, the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluting forces out there. In fact, the industry produces more carbon emissions than all international air travel and worldwide shipping combined

Not only that, the use of plastic microfibers in synthetic clothing accounts for 35% of all microplastics in the environment. Microplastics (and plastic in general) are one of the greatest environmental threats we currently face. We are well on our way to ending up with more plastic in the ocean than fish. 

In the face of this disturbing news, designers and manufacturers have found a clever way to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry: making clothes out of recycled plastics

Trash to Fashion 

Manufacturers are wising up to the fact that if they don’t change their process, there won’t be much of a fashion industry (or possibly even a planet) in just a few short years. Some have therefore set their sights on a more sustainable means of production—using waste plastic as a raw material. 

Using plastic bottles instead of new plastic to manufacture clothes reduces the amount of plastic in the environment and uses much less energy. For example, making new polyester requires an enormous amount of heat, and two of the main ingredients are coal and ethylene (a derivative of petroleum).  

Recycled polyester, on the other hand, requires no coal, no petroleum, and less heat to produce. Manufacturers begin by collecting plastic bottles from landfills. The bottles are then shredded and melted down to form little plastic pellets. Next, the pellets get extruded and spun into fibers for making clothing. This process is much more eco-friendly than producing polyester from scratch. 

More clothing manufacturers are turning to sustainable methods like this in an effort to change for the better. 

Sending a Message to Consumers 

The green revolution in the fashion industry affects not only manufacturer behavior, but consumer behavior as well. The more sustainable brands emerge, the more aware people are becoming about the impact of the fashion industry as it stands. 

When we think of ecological disaster, clothing isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. 

Rather, we see images of burning landfills and oil spills. While these are certainly problematic, we tend to have blind spots when it comes to our own responsibility in all of this. The rate at which we go through clothing is unprecedented. 

In 2020 alone, a staggering 100 billion new items of clothing were made, which is more than double the amount from 2000. Collectively, we buy more than double the amount of clothing we did in 2000. The industry itself is driving this acceleration in consumption, but we as consumers are complicit. 

The more big brands that make a public commitment to sustainability, the more people will become aware of the problem and hopefully change their behavior. 

Collectively, if we recycled and repaired our clothes instead of throwing them away, the amount of clothing that ends up in landfills or incinerated could decrease significantly. Furthermore, if we as consumers committed to buying from sustainable brands, much less harm would come from the manufacturing process. 

The importance of a change in consumer behavior is compounded by practical limitations in the recycling of used textiles. Awareness is all well and good, but what we can do with that awareness is just as important. 

Currently, we are only able to separate plastic fibers from organic fibers on a small scale. For clothes to be effectively recycled, they need separating into their individual material components. This is a slow process that requires expensive machinery and great expertise. 

As a result, most recycled clothing is simply repurposed to make other consumer goods, while the unusable components get thrown away. This means that even if we as consumers recycle all the clothes we buy, most of them will still end up in landfills. We therefore need to make a commitment to buying less, using less, and repurposing damaged clothing. 

A Shift in Values 

Faced with an uncertain and grim future, younger generations are becoming more critical of consumer culture. They’re voting with their wallets and refuse to buy goods and services from ethically bereft manufacturers. They demand better from the corporations that flood the planet with single-use merchandise. 

This generation also participates more in second-hand shopping, descending on pop-up thrift markets with exuberance. In fact, Gen Z is 27% more likely to buy second-hand clothing than the rest of the population. They spurn mass-produced, cheaply made, and low-quality goods, turning instead to massive networks of online thrift shopping. 

They are willing to pay higher prices if it means getting better quality, sustainably produced goods. If this trend continues to gain momentum, it could mean a dramatic shift in the manufacturing habits of clothiers. 

Young people are entering the job market and gaining purchasing power. If they choose to turn away from mass production and unsustainable consumerism, there will be no more market for ‘fast fashion’.

A Plastic Future

For several decades, humanity has been more concerned with luxury and convenience than sustainability. However, now that there’s plenty of empirical data that tells us we’re headed for self-destruction, younger generations are refusing to trade their futures for opulence. 

Considering that young people are attracted to brands that emphasize quality over quantity and ethics over profit, the market for recycled plastic clothing is set to boom in the coming years. 

A few brands have even taken the initiative one step further. They’re creating adaptive clothing from plastic fibers for wheelchair users and people with disabilities. This highlights just how many possibilities recycled plastics can offer the fashion world.

The more these kinds of values are reproduced in our society, the faster we will get to a future where recycled plastic clothing is a norm, not a novelty. 

If you want to do your part to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry, do your research before buying from big brands. Learning how to sew and stitch is not a bad idea either.

Sea Going Green is a sustainable tourism consultancy working closely together with the tourism industry to lower clients’ environmental footprint via custom-made “Green Transition Strategies”.

Interested in supplying plastic-free alternatives to guests? We have a strategy for you.

 Contrary to popular belief, the fashion industry is one of the biggest
polluting forces out there. In fact, the industry produces more carbon
emissions than all international air travel and worldwide shipping combined

Luckily, designers and manufacturers have found a clever way to reduce the
environmental impact of the fashion industry, read more about how they are
making clothes out of recycled plastics.Read MoreSustainable LivingBlog – Sea Going Green


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