Fossil fashion - Why recycled polyester isn't the solution to fashion's carbon problem.

BearMade challenges the fast fashion business model.

It doesn’t take an expert to tell you that the fashion industry needs shaking up to mitigate the environmental impact of fast fashion. A snowballing waste crisis, widespread pollution and exploitation of workers in global supply chains, today’s fashion industry shows few signs of slowing down.  

A less-reported issue is the increasing evidence that shows the fashion industry relies heavily on the use of cheap synthetic fibres, especially polyester and polyamide (nylon) to fuel its insatiable business model. A new report from Changing Markets Foundation published last month revealed that over two-thirds of textiles are now made from materials derived from fossil fuels. “Without prompt and radical legislative action and a considerable slowdown, fast fashion’s quest for cheap clothing will create untenable volumes of waste and toxic microfibres, and emit more carbon than the planet can handle.” (Changing Markets Foundation)  The report found that 87% of all clothing material ends up destroyed or dumped - and unfortunately, synthetic materials that are derived from fossil fuels do not biodegrade in landfill.  

At BearMade, we challenge the throw-away culture by building functional products that last a lifetime, using high performance plastic-free fabrics such as our dry-wax canvas. Our industrial-strength metal fixtures provide longevity as well as our rescue service grade, ‘AustriAlpin Cobra’ buckles.  

Additionally we have introduced a circular programme - allowing consumers to sell their bag back to us - our local craftspeople will then take it apart and turn it into something new.  

The Changing Markets report also uncovers how that “in light of the fashion industry’s growing dependence on fossil fuels, the oil and gas industry are betting on production of plastic, including plastic-fibres, as a growing share of their revenue. The production of polyester alone is leading to annual GHG emissions equivalent to 180 coal power plants and this is projected to nearly double by 2030.”  

The recycling red herring. What a lot of brands fail to tell us is that recycling will not solve fast fashion’s problems, nor will it curb the growth in the use of synthetic fibres. “Currently, less than 1% of clothes are recycled to make new clothes, and the share of recycled polyester is declining. Virtually all recycled polyester in clothing comes not from recycled garments, but from recycled plastic bottles.”

With limited options for practical polyester recycling, at the end of its life this polyester will be sent to landfill or burnt. “Turning polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles into recycled polyester fibre therefore represents a one-way ticket to disposal, while this material should instead remain in a closed-loop bottle-to-bottle recycling system.” And we are no longer seeing a few seasonal collection launches by fashion brands, instead 50–100 ‘micro-seasons’ have become the new normal.

Instead of redesigning products to meet the latest trend, we refine our supply chain, continuing to be carbon negative; prioritising local, high-quality materials to minimise planet damaging practices. Making more of anything isn’t good for the planet, so we fund carbon offsetting and tree planting projects around the globe to minimise our impact.

The report stresses limited natural resources mean the fashion industry must change, and sets out a number of ways it could become greener, including embracing renewable energy and developing new methods for recycling, as well as reducing the use of polyester. They also argue the industry should focus on producing better quality, long-lived items and new approaches to reselling items.  

 It’s vital that eco-friendly fashion does not remain a luxury, we choose to charge honest and affordable prices, giving more people access to purchase responsibly made products and provide a better understanding of the environment. A portion of our profits fund free and unique wild workshops; from fly fishing to foraging and group hikes.  

 “By buying Bear you are helping us prove that it’s possible to make something locally, responsibly and affordably. In the UK alone an estimated £140 million worth of clothing (300,000 tonnes) goes into landfill each year. We plan to plant 300,000 trees by 2025.” - Oscar, Bear Co-Founder. 

 

Sources: (February 2021) Changing Markets Foundation: 

http://changingmarkets.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/FOSSIL-FASHION_Web-compressed.pdf  

 

Words By Lian Lynch 

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