It is estimated that every year we produce roughly 400 million tonnes of plastic waste a year, with 8 million tons entering our oceans. It has been suggested that if this continues, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050.
Evidently, the time for businesses to invest in sustainable solutions and create innovation in plastic is now.
In recent years, brands have taken a more considered approach as to how they can do more to explore Earth-friendly choices when it comes to the ways in which they produce, market and package their products. From sustainable packaging solutions to re-thinking how plastics can be recycled, repurposed and reused back into textiles, luxury brands are now catching on.
For many brands, packaging is the obvious place to start, with a plethora of thoughtful solutions having made their way into the mainstream.
A huge amount of work has gone into widening the scope of packaging and not just in the way in which materials are produced and compiled. Aside from innovation across physical products and their own packaging, brands are also looking at their delivery options; focusing in on how they choose to send out their products to customers.
Butterfly Mark-certified brand Benedetti Life has turned to sustainable packaging leader RePack to distribute its deliveries, ensuring that its brand message is emulated at every customer touch point. “Every returned RePack reduces waste and removes the need to manufacture a new single-use plastic bag or a cardboard box. It’s a simple solution to reduce waste as well as CO2 emissions” says Mateja Benedetti, the brand’s founder.
Consumer awareness to packaging waste in oceans and landfills is driving change
– Mckinsey & Company
Outside of packaging, brands across the fashion industry have found feasible ways to action their ethical message whilst maximising sustainability.
There is constant innovation in the way plastics are recycled, repurposed and reused in the textile industry. One of the most well-known suppliers is ECONYL®, a form of nylon, which is made from waste plastics found in landfill, and ocean waste.
Similarly, REPREVE®, creates textiles from recycled plastic, and to date has recycled over 24 billion plastic bottles reducing the need for petroleum, emitting fewer greenhouse gases and conserving water and energy in the process.
Brands are also increasingly looking to the circular loop, utilising the plastic waste we already have in order to remould and reuse; fulfilling consumers’ desire for more products without compromising on sustainability.
Fashion powerhouse Stella McCartney currently uses polyester made out of recycled plastic water bottles, but is actively looking to invest in solutions that allow it to recycle polyester fabrics back into fabrics, closing the loop further. It pledges that by 2025, the brand aims to only use recycled polyester as well as their nylon alternative.
Butterfly Mark-certified brand KAMPOS founded in 2019, produced a sell-out first season of swimwear through its innovative use of waste. Materials used to make the products sold equated to approximately 11,000 recycled plastic PET bottles and almost 2,000 kg of abandoned fishing nets or regenerated nylon.
From big-budget luxury brands to smaller start-ups, businesses are catching onto the positive impact of seeking out sustainable alternatives to stay ahead of ever-wise customers, who look to gain more in regards to lasting sustainability pledges from the brands that they shop with.
A Circular Revolution: What’s next or sustainable alternatives?
Across the board, it seems that brands know it’s time to explore alternative solutions in order to meet the increasing accountability demanded by shoppers. But what more can be done by businesses to ensure that they’re making the most impactful yet thoughtful choices for our planet and their customers?
Firstly, circular is certainly better. Closing the gap in the loop of consumption is key in order for the use of any sustainably sourced material to have the longevity it needs to make a long-lasting positive impact.
Right now, the demand to use recycled plastic materials is high. This is not only because brands and consumers are both more aware of the impact and responsibility they hold, but also in terms of cost; as recycled plastic is cheaper for brands than virgin alternatives.
However, we’re simply not recycling plastic fast enough to keep up with demand, with recycling rates for plastic packaging relatively low. Across Europe, 40% of plastic-packaging is recycled, whilst within the US, this number drops to around 28%.
It’s also key to note that even recycled synthetics release microfibres when they’re washed, which make their way into our oceans. A recent study found the Arctic to be “pervasively” polluted by microplastic fibres predominantly from people in Europe and North America washing clothing made from synthetic materials, such as polyester.
This means that suppliers will need to focus on bringing developments in new technologies forward in order for the impact of using recycled plastics to be felt planet-wide. Within the fashion industry, the alternative of reusing textiles would give brands a more direct journey to the Earth-friendly outcome they seek.
This is not to say that innovative plastics are not a beneficial step in a sustainable revolution, and far superior to their single-use counterparts. With brand founders and thought leaders at the helm of putting sustainable materials at the forefront of their offering, innovation is at the heart of progression.
Updated by – Emma Mortassagne
Written by - Kate Haines