The Fashion Industry’s Invisible Plastic Problem

Biodegradable yarn made from algae, brands embracing upcycled textiles and runway shows banning plastic hangers: The growing attention paid to sustainability in the fashion industry is laudable — and starting to make a real impact.

Innovative and effective solutions are alive and well in the clothing industry. And outright waste, like the fact that 20% of all garments produced each year are never sold and go straight to landfills, is also getting more negative attention.

But even during this Fashion Week season, with the ongoing shows in New York and those that will open soon in Los Angeles, there is something that hardly anyone in the United States is talking about: What about all the packaging behind the scenes in the clothing and fashion industry all year long?

Few are aware of the massive amounts of plastic used to move textiles, other raw materials and finished products within the fashion supply chain. More than a quarter of all plastic created globally each year is used in the fashion industry. And much of this is flexible packaging and film, which cannot be recycled and will forever stay in landfills and in our oceans.

This behind-the-scenes plastic is similar to the issue of poor overseas labor conditions three decades ago, and it’s simply something no one talks about — yet. That needs to change.

While brands can — and some are — addressing this problem, fashion industry leaders and government regulators need to step up and lead the effort in order to make real change. For example, some brands indeed are switching to alternatives, like compostable packaging. More than 60 brands have also signed a pact to ensure 50% of business-to-business packaging is made from recycled materials by 2030, and legislators are working on new laws, especially in Europe. But

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