Depressing facts: Each year, we throw away enough plastic to circle the planet four times, 50 percent of which was only used once. Then it ends up emitting greenhouse gases from a landfill or becoming part of the massive garbage island floating in the Pacific. Since the American government is currently run by climate change deniers, it seems businesses have to make ethical changes all of their own volition.
Before you go salting that organic salad with hopeless tears and trying to assuage the guilt of humanity by retweeting everything #youthclimatestrike, we have some good news. Fashion houses, which have also taken big strides to drop the use of fur in their lines, are now making an effort to cut back on or eliminate plastics as well.
Last October, bigwigs Burberry, Stella McCartney, and H&M signed the environmentally conscious New Plastics Economy Global Commitment spearheaded by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which works to minimize waste. One of the goals of this commitment is to ensure all packaging by these companies can be safely recycled by 2025. The Foundation just published a new report that lays out more specific objectives. In that time frame, Burberry for instance aims to have all of its plastic packaging be reusable, recyclable or compostable. The plan is — in 2019 alone — to eliminate individual shrink wrap, plastic lamination of retail bags and poly bags for garment covers — replacing it with bioplastic or reusable bags — and launch a hanger take-back program in the UK. Burberry will recycle discarded retail hangers to be reused in the chain. By removing plastic lamination of their bags, they end the production of 20 tons of plastic.
Fashion has both been on the forefront of social movements and also, in the case of fur and plastics, been lagging like a toddler that needs a nap. If efforts to eliminate fur are any indication of what’s to come with plastic reduction, it may take awhile for the industry to catch on. In 1997, an animal rights activist threw red paint on comedian Joan Rivers’ sable coat and only 22 years later, fashion houses have finally caught on that smushing minks en masse for a coat is no longer considered chic amongst younger consumers. Burberry may be progressive in its environmental efforts, but it only stopped using real fur last year.
And even with this commitment, fashion has a long way to go to help a polar bear out. Plastics used in clothing through synthetic materials are also environmentally hazardous. Even washing them puts plastic in our water, including in the ocean. Already, by 2050, there will probably be more plastic than fish in the Atlantic. Your future grandchildren are basically going to be those 3D printed plastic toys you get at the zoo.
Hopefully, before we’re giving CPR to the world’s last bee, big fashion houses will take more cue from more sustainable and attainable lines like Toms, Tome, and Cienne and do the good work that needs to be done to save the planet.