With headlines like “Clothing from ocean plastic” companies indicate that they turn marine debris into new products and seem to demonstrate their eco-friendliness and sustainability. Recycling of plastics into clothing is not new: Since more than 15 years used plastic bottles have been utilized to produce new textiles; but over the years technologies got better and now even shoes can be made from recycled plastic. Is this media-effective topic only exploited for marketing purposes or does ”clothing from ocean plastic” really help to tackle global plastic pollution?
It is proven that synthetic clothing releases much more micro-sized fibers into the washing water than natural clothing. Due to the smaller size of these fibers compared to the plastic waste they originate from, it is definitely harder to remove them from the waste water. Thus, they finally end up in the environment.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to renounce synthetic materials with their advantageous features like stretching, is there a better alternative than producing these clothes from plastic waste? And as plastics won’t be taken from the market in the near future, how can you use it most considerately and sustainably? Sure, it might be a good marketing strategy if popular soccer players are wearing jersey made of “ocean debris” but it could also help to raise further awareness for the problem. Even if it is only a drop in the bucket regarding waste reduction, each contribution is valuable. It might trigger further action like similar upcycling strategies or companies changing their regular production processes towards recyclable products (design for recycling). Additionally, waste and recycling management programs are absent in many countries, plastic is ’disposed‘ into the ocean being fragmented into microplastics in the end. If this plastic is captured instead and used to create not only new fabrics but also jobs, doesn’t this help to solve some problems? And then there are differences in synthetic textiles, in how prone they are for microfiber release. In the end the costs and benefits of each product/option have to be balanced to make a real eco-friendly choice.
Image Source: http://www.zazzle.com/recycling_logo_cut_out_of_green_plastic_t_shirt-235806654169902739, Accessed: 12.12.2016