A few years ago, Mary Bemis was going through her closet, trying to offload some items to a popular resale site. As he was reading the labels, he noticed that what he was selling was made of polyester, a common material used in clothing that usually comes from petroleum. In other words: it is a form of plastic.
“I was pretty shocked,” Bemis, 31, tells PopSugar “As I’ve been switching to a more plant-based diet and buying cleaner beauty and personal care products, it was shocking that my clothes, which sit on my skin all day, were made with ingredients that are quite toxic.”
According to the CFDA Material Index, polyester is the most widely used fiber in the world, accounting for about half of the overall fiber market and about 80 percent of synthetic fibers. In 2016, polyester fiber production was estimated at 52 million metric tons.
About 15 years ago, the fashion industry started exploring other fabric sources as solutions. Recycled plastic bottles emerged as an early alternative, as more and more brands turned to these materials to meet “sustainable” production quotas. But if recycled plastic bottles just become more non-recyclable products, it can be done really Would it be considered sustainable?
“We all want to feel good about what we buy, and we’ve all been taught how important recycling is,” Bemis continued. “So making a direct connection between materials and sustainability benefits was a very successful strategy for this material [from recycled plastic bottles] to be so popular.”
While there may not be anything inherently wrong with buying products made from recycled plastic bottles, doing so may not be as planet-friendly as the average consumer believes. For example, the prevalence of microplastics poses a growing problem for the health of ocean marine life. Curbing this threat means creating and consuming far fewer plastic products as a society, both at the individual and corporate levels.
What’s more, recycling plastic bottles for clothing and accessories presents a decidedly unsustainable problem, Bemis explains.
“The increased demand for plastic bottles for fashion has made it 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 turning bottles into fashion products, which then can’t be recycled, so it’s not a great long-term solution until we find a better way to recycle clothing items.”
Today, designers are shifting to incorporate new sustainable materials that go beyond the ordinary, whether sourcing wood-based fibers for sportswear or repurposing fishing nets for everyday workwear. Ahead, learn more about new — and sometimes unexpected — materials entering your closet