A few years ago, Mary Bemis was rummaging through her closet, trying to unload some items on a popular resale site. Reading the labels, she noticed that everything she sold was made of polyester, a material commonly used in clothing that is usually petroleum-based. In other words: it’s a form of plastic.
“I was pretty shocked,” Bemis, 31, told POPSUGAR. “As I transitioned to a more plant-based diet and bought more beauty and personal care products, it was shocking that my clothes, which also stay on my skin all day, were made from quite toxic materials. “
According to the CFDA index of materials, polyester is the most used fiber in the world, accounting for about half of the overall fiber market and about 80% of synthetic fibers. In 2016, polyester fiber production was estimated at 52 million metric tons.
About 15 years ago, the fashion industry began to explore other sources of fabrics as a solution. Recycled plastic bottles emerged as an early alternative as more brands turned to these materials to meet “sustainable” production quotas. But if recycled plastic bottles simply become non-recyclable products, can this really be considered sustainable?
“We all want to feel good about what we buy, and we’ve all learned how important recycling is,” Bemis continues. “So creating a direct link between materials and sustainability benefits has been a very successful strategy for this material. [from recycled plastic bottles] become so popular.”
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with buying a product made from recycled plastic bottles, it may not be as kind to the planet as the average consumer is led to believe. The prevalence of microplastics, for example, poses a growing problem for the health of oceanic marine life. Stemming this threat means making and consuming far fewer plastic products as a society, both at the individual and corporate level.
Plus, diverting plastic bottles to recycling them into clothing and accessories presents a decidedly unsustainable conundrum, Bemis says.
“The spike in demand for plastic bottles for fashion has actually made it much more expensive for bottling companies to source recycled plastic for their bottles,” she says. “So instead of turning old bottles into new bottles over and over again, we’re actually diverting the bottles into fashion products, which then can’t be recycled, so it’s not a good long-term solution until ‘until we find better ways to recycle clothing items.’
Today, designers are turning their attention to incorporating new, sustainable materials that go beyond the typical, whether sourcing wood-based fibers for sports recreation or reusing fishing nets. fishing for everyday work clothes. Ahead, learn more about the new – and sometimes unexpected – materials that are making their way into your wardrobe.