Why you should check what your clothes are made from before you buy
Most clothes these days are made from plastic – find out why this a serious problem and why clothes made from natural fabrics are a better choice.
What are plastic clothes?
When you look at the label of a piece of clothing made from plastic, it’s not going to say plastic, it’s going to use words like polyester, nylon and acrylic. Polyester is a plastic fiber found in an estimated 60% of garments.
Why are plastic clothes bad?
- Carbon emissions
The source of synthetic fibers and fabrics is the fossil fuel crude oil. Polyester releases two to three times more carbon emissions than cotton.
2. Waste dumps
Up to 85% of textiles go into landfills each year. That’s enough to fill the Sydney harbor annually. Plastic clothes do not biodegrade naturally and build up to form waste dumps.
3. Polluted oceans
Washing clothes releases 500,000 tons of plastic microfibers into the ocean each year — the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. It’s estimated that 35% of all microplastics — very small pieces of plastic that never biodegrade — in the ocean came from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester. Overall, microplastics are estimated to compose up to 31% of plastic pollution in the ocean.
4. They make you sweat
Plastic clothes don’t give your skin room to breathe leaving you sweaty in the heat nor do they trap air well to insulate you when it’s cold.
5. They look tacky
Plastic clothes are easily affordable. You may be able to buy a wardrobe full but did you really get value for money? Plastic clothes have that characteristic sheen that looks tacky and cheap.
What’s the alternative?
Natural fabrics are sourced from plants and animals and at the end of their lives they biodegrade naturally or can be repurposed or burnt without releasing toxic chemicals. Not only are clothes made from natural materials better for the environment, they also feel more breathable on the skin and look more expensive.
- Plant fibers
Plant sources can be used instead of plastic to create natural fabrics. These fabrics include cotton, bamboo, jute, hemp and cellulosic fibers (viscose, acetate, rayon), and are a good choice for vegans.
2. Animal fibers
Obviously not a choice for vegans but natural fibers can also be derived from animals such as wool, silk and leather.
Organic textile is made from plants grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment with systems in place to replenish and maintain soil fertility, reduce the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilisers, and build biologically diverse agriculture. The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) was developed by leading standard setters to define world-wide recognised requirements for organic textiles.
So the gold standard fabric is Fairtrade – it assures standards have been met by the farmers, workers and companies that are part of products’ supply chains.
Why are mixed fabrics bad?
Polyester is often blended with cotton to create a ‘cotton mix’ and acrylic is often blended with wool to create a ‘wool mix’. It’s easy to assume that fabrics with a plastic mix aren’t so bad but that’s not the case. Mixed fabrics often can not be recycled and end up on landfill.
How do I avoid plastic clothes?
- Buy from brands that use natural or sustainable fabrics
Not all brands make clothes made of plastic. Often higher end brands use quality and natural materials. Even better, there are companies who use soley organic (no nasty chemicals) or recycled materials. This is something to check on the brands About Us page. Buying new from a clean fashion brand can be expensive, but a great tip is to invest in timeless, high quality basics. Check the brands good on you rating.
2. Check the material of preloved clothes
Whether it’s a great value find in a charity shop or finding a unique vintage piece from the past, shopping preloved is one of my favourite ways to shop ethically. However, when looking for second hand or vintage items, remember to check the label to find out what it’s made of and try to choose natural materials. That way we’re not contributing to microplastics in the oceans when we wash our clothes but also, the clothes are going to feel more breathable and look more expensive.
3. Purge your plastic clothes
I’m not suggesting to discard your entire wardrobe over night. It’s more about starting to form conscious habits. If you’re at the stage were you want a deep clean, I would suggest recycling your plastic clothes were possible because wearing and washing them or giving them to charity and having someone else wearing and washing them will contribute to plastic microfibers pollution.
My hope is that, as more people make conscious choices, the garment industry will take note and start making more ethically produced clothes.