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Fashions Virgin plastic problem | BdF

Fashions Virgin plastic problem |  BdF

 


Fashion must not only stop making so many new things, but also completely abandon its reliance on virgin plastic materials like polyester in order to meet the industry's climate goals, according to a new report from the trade group focused on sustainable materials Textile Exchange.

Emissions from the sector must be reduced more or less in half by the end of the decade to stay in line with internationally agreed ambitions to limit global warming. But that won't happen unless the industry slows down and stops using new volumes of fossil fuel-based textiles that have helped propel its growth for decades, the report said.

This would constitute a radical departure from the dominant fashion business model. Cheap and versatile polyester is the world's most widely used material, accounting for more than half of global production in 2022, according to Textile Exchange. Add in other synthetic materials, such as nylon and acrylic, and plastics' market share rises to almost two-thirds of textiles produced each year. Even in products made from natural fabrics like wool and cotton, there is often plastic in the form of spandex to provide stretch or hidden in threads, trims and coverings.

All of this comes at a high environmental cost. To meet demand from the clothing, footwear and home textile industries, polyester producers released 125 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2022, according to Textile Exchange, or the equivalent to nearly 30 million cars and more than any other material. Microplastics that shed from synthetic clothing when washed are found in our blood, lungs and brains. Discarded polyester clothing fills landfills and releases toxins into the environment.

To counter these ills, fashion must dramatically accelerate its efforts to bring textile-to-textile recycling to market, explore new innovations such as biomaterials and materials made from captured carbon, and ultimately reduce the amount of new products it puts on the market, the report says. .

We will continue to fall short of our goals as an industry unless we really step up our efforts, said Beth Jensen, senior director of climate and nature impact at Textile Exchange. We need to remove virgin polyester from fossil fuels from supply chains, while thinking about more thoughtful production.

Not everyone agrees that plastics should have a place in the future of fashion.

Last year, a coalition of environmental groups launched a campaign calling on fashion brands to commit to completely eliminating fossil fuel-based materials by the end of the decade.

It's a challenge, but not entirely unrealistic, according to some companies. Outdoor brand Icebreaker has almost completely rid its merino wool-based sportswear of synthetic materials. Hugo Boss has set a goal of eliminating polyester and nylon from its collections by 2030, although it is not yet clear how the brand will achieve this.

But Textile Exchange (which represents a broad group of industry players, including sports and outerwear brands that rely heavily on synthetic fibers for various technical and performance properties) says the industry requires a more nuanced approach.

Huge volumes of polyester, nylon and spandex products already provide potential feedstock for recycled materials that should not be wasted. Additionally, at current production rates, simply replacing fossil fuel-based textiles with natural alternatives risks putting more pressure on already exploited land and water resources, according to the Textile Exchange report. Even brands like Icebreaker haven't yet figured out how to completely eliminate plastic from things like waterproof coverings and stretch belts.

However, the industry is moving too slowly to tackle the use of virgin plastic. Although recycled polyester accounted for 14% of global production in 2022, this figure was down 1% from the previous year, according to Textile Exchange. Most of the supply came from reused plastic bottles, an increasingly controversial practice because it does not directly address the problem of fashion waste and turns once-recyclable products into items without an end-of-life solution.

The move away from virgin polyester in the fashion industry depends on new and emerging technologies that do not yet work at scale and are proving difficult to bring to market.

Innovations in textile-to-textile recycling are just beginning to become industrialized, with early movers facing significant structural challenges. Swedish recycler Renewcell filed for bankruptcy in February due to slowing sales. This high-profile failure has prompted new investment and commitments from brands and financiers, but more funding and more collaboration are needed to truly scale textile-to-textile recycling technologies and collection infrastructure and sorting necessary to provide them with raw materials, Textile Exchange. said.

More nascent innovations, such as bio-based plastics or materials made from captured carbon, are also potentially promising, but will require significant investment and additional work to ensure they actually meet carbon reduction ambitions. environmental impact of the industry, Textile Exchange said.

Regulation can help. The European Union is considering requiring brands to incorporate recycled content into their products, which would boost demand for new technologies to come to market. A bill introduced in the US Senate last month could put $14 billion in incentives on the table for companies involved in the circular fashion sector.

But even a drastic acceleration in the marketing of new innovations does not allow fashion to be sheltered from a central tension: manufacturing ever more new products is incompatible with the industry's climate objectives.

If we simply replace [virgin] materials, but staying on the same growth trajectory that won't be enough to meet targets by 2030, Jensen said.

Sources

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2/ https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/sustainability/fashion-sustainable-virgin-plastic-polyester-textile-exchange/

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