How Sustainable Are Clothes Made From Recycled Materials

Clothes made from recycled materials are not as sustainable as we think. More big-name brands such as Nike and Gap are making their clothing out of recyclables. Hearing that would make most consumers assume these clothes are more sustainable and help to protect the planet.

But as Changing Markets Foundation adviser George Harding-Roll states, "If you are recycling synthetics, that doesn't get rid of the microplastics problem." Maxine Bédat, the executive producer for a non-profit pushing for sustainable fashion, notes that most of these clothes won't end up being recycled.

One survey found people tend to only wear a clothing item seven times, and some even only one time. As a result, clothes can end up in landfills quicker than plastic bottles.

recycled plastic bottles

Clothing made of recycled plastic bottles would mean that the plastic bottle will end up in the landfill sooner. Plastic bottles getting in our landfills faster potentially causes a rapid increase of harmful chemicals in our environment.

Bédat believes that the lower emissions impact of recycled yarns distracts from the bigger problem of textile mills. They account for 76% of a garment's lifecycle emissions. He argues brands need to focus less on creating a magical sustainable material and more on improving energy efficiency.

Synthetic alternatives to recycled materials

Another solution that can be considered is using alternatives to fossil-fuel-derived synthetics. Some science companies have come up with fibers that are made from wheat and corn.

This material can be composted fully in nature. Pangaia is one clothing brand working to create a full line of clothes with these fibers.

Fast fashion brands touting their use of recycled materials can arguably help the planet more by simply producing fewer clothes. But that would also mean fewer profits for them, which these companies are likely unwilling to sacrifice.

The burden ends up falling on the consumers to do their research and make more conscious shopping choices. Harding-Rolls argues that ultimately it'll take legislation to create the systemic change needed to create a more sustainable world.

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