The plastic waste crisis is a massive problem today that the world is facing. It is projected that by the year 2050, if we continue to use and dispose of plastic at the current pace, we will have around 400 million metric tonnes of plastic waste. In a 2023 report titled ‘Plastics: The Potential and Possibilities,’ prepared by the Marico Innovation Foundation in association with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and Praxis Global Alliance, it was highlighted that India alone produces an average of 3.4 million metric tonnes of plastic waste every year. Most of these plastics are not biodegradable; they break down into smaller pieces and end up in our oceans, posing a severe threat to various animal species.
However, amid this disturbing scenario, there is good news from the fashion industry. Brands are now going beyond the use of biodegradable bags and are transforming fashion with recycled plastic. One noteworthy sustainable fabric that is garnering attention is recycled polyester. This fabric is created using fibres made from post-consumer plastic bottles, providing a major opportunity to reuse plastic waste and produce long-lasting, sustainable clothes.
Fashion and climate
The implementation of recycled polyester and other sustainable fabrics by the fashion sector has an optimistic impact on the carbon footprint in numerous ways. Firstly, the production of recycled polyester consumes less energy compared to virgin polyester production, consequently reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This energy conservation helps ease the industry’s carbon footprint and has a major impact while contributing to the fight against climate change. Moreover, sustainable fabric production also helps conserve water resources, reducing the strain on our valuable freshwater sources.
Furthermore, traditional textile production often utilised harmful chemicals and processes that degraded soil quality over time. A 2020 study from Imperial College London revealed that plastic performs better than alternatives, like cotton, in a variety of impact areas, including both water use and emissions. For example, to produce a pound of cotton, it takes about 1,400 gallons of water, while recycled polyesters require virtually no water during production, and even virgin polyester production only uses small amounts of water as a coolant. Moreover, recycled plastic also facilitates lowering the global carbon emissions derived from the fashion industry. A report by the Textile Exchange, an advocacy group for sustainable fibres, revealed that every kilogram of recycled polyester represents a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions when compared to virgin polyester.
Therefore, by embracing recycled polyester, the fashion industry actively contributes to waste reduction. This initiative plays a key role in protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, and safeguarding delicately balanced ecosystems by indirectly promoting soil preservation and thus maintaining the fertility of agricultural lands.
Additionally, textile-to-textile recycling is still in its infancy, with only a small percentage of all clothing and shoes recycled. On this front, the fashion industry continues to find creative ways to convert even more plastic waste into the clothing we choose to wear, showing that it is ready to adapt. Recycled Polyester is changing the fashion world and its culture, recognising that trendy styles coexist with sustainable commitments.
Interestingly, the adoption of sustainable practices in fashion also has a significant impact on branding and perception. Consumers today are much more aware and environmentally conscious than ever before, and they prefer companies that demonstrate a dedication to ethical business practices. By implementing sustainable fabrics, brands in the fashion industry can position themselves as ethical and progressive industry leader, attracting customers who become patrons over time as they form favourable brand associations.
Looking at the numbers, the fashion industry itself is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for approximately 4% of emissions, equivalent to the combined emissions of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides in cotton cultivation also pollutes the soil and nearby water sources. However, using recycled polyester can help reduce the industry’s environmental impact. Plastic performs better than alternatives like cotton in terms of water use and emissions. Recycled polyester signifies a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to virgin polyester, according to Textile Exchange.
Also, recycled plastic helps reduce global carbon emissions derived from the fashion industry. Polyester fabrics, which can be made from recycled polyester, are more affordable, durable, and require less water to launder and maintain compared to traditional materials like cotton or wool.
While textile-to-textile recycling is still in its infancy, with only about 13% of all clothing and shoes recycled, the fashion industry is showing a readiness to adapt. Plastic has played a crucial role in changing the industry’s culture and recognising that trendy styles can coexist with sustainable commitments.
In conclusion, the use of recycled plastic in fashion is a significant step towards addressing the plastic waste crisis and reducing the fashion industry’s environmental impact. The fashion industry must embrace and implement sustainable practices to address its significant environmental challenges and ensure a more sustainable and responsible future for fashion.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
Mr. Kapil Bhatia is CEO and Founder of UniRec –– a unit of BrandStore India Private Limited’s Corporate launched with a focus on creating a brand where every product is produced using recycled plastic PET bottles and thereby reducing the carbon footprints. Mr, Kapil Bhatia has been in the garment industry since two decades and is the director of a Cambridge textiles which Manufacturing & Retailing readymade garments & Supply uniforms & corporate wear & accessories to various service industries and government organisations. Mr. Kapil’s expertise lies in purchasing, retailing, logistics management, financial planning, production planning and customizing client requirements.