Starting to look at ways to minimise plastics in the home? Understandably, the bedroom might not be the first room we think of. But you might be surprised to find out that there’s a few ways plastic can sneak into our wardrobes, without us even realising it!
When we choose clothes, our eyes are usually first drawn to colours, textures, shapes, styles and patterns. When it comes to building a wardrobe that’s low-plastic or plastic-free, there’s a few more things we should be considering:
1. What our clothes are made of
2. Where we purchase from
3. Care requirements
4. Our end-of-life plan
So let’s crack open those wardrobe doors and take a peek inside!
Materials, fibres, textiles
You’ve probably heard of certain materials being referred to as “synthetic” – fabrics like polyester, nylon, fleece, vinyon and faux fur. It’s estimated that some 60% of the world’s clothes are made with synthetic materials, and it makes sense why – they’re extremely cheap to produce on a large scale (fast fashion is almost always synthetic). But did you know that synthetic materials are mostly derived from fossil fuels (i.e. oil), and are essentially a kind of plastic?
So, the first step in building a low or no-plastic wardrobe is getting familiar with common textiles and understanding where they come from. It’s a bit of a complex topic because manufacturing processes are always evolving. But! There are some general guidelines we can follow for making more sustainable choices (see Action Steps below), and there’s heaps of information out there if you want to find out more about a particular textile – the links at the bottom of the page are a great place to start.
Where you purchase from
While it takes a little bit of time to research brands to see how sustainable they are, it pays in the long run because building a sustainable capsule wardrobe is a long term game. Instead of buying and discarding lots of cheap, lower-quality synthetic items, our goal should be to invest in fewer, higher-quality, more sustainable items that we really love, and use them for longer periods of time.
The good news is that there’s a huge variety of sustainable and ethical brands out there, and the ones that are genuine are transparent on their websites as to their social and environmental footprint. Well Made Clothes are great starting points for such brands.
Another great option for reducing the demand for virgin (i.e. brand new) textiles is to look for pre-loved first. This could be hunting through your local op shop for second hand treasures, or organising clothes swaps with your friends or colleagues. Not only does this go a long way in reducing the item’s environmental footprint, it will save you money too!
So what about the synthetic clothes that you already have in your wardrobe? By no means are we saying to get rid of them immediately! However, to make sure they’re not harming our environment and we can wear them as long as possible, it’s important that we care for them correctly.
When we wash synthetic clothes, microplastics – tiny plastic fibres – wash out into our waterways and oceans. It might seem like a really little thing, but the collective impact is huge – it’s estimated that there’s now around 14 million tonnes of microplastics on the seafloor, and even worse, they’re being consumed by sea life. Do you eat seafood? Then you’re likely eating microplastics, too. Eep!
The good news is that there’s a simple way to avoid these microplastics being released in the washing process – by washing synthetic clothes in a Guppyfriend bag. Simple!
End of life
Even with proper care, there will most likely come a time when you are ready to part ways with clothing and footwear. But before chucking it straight in the bin, have a think about if there’s a more sustainable option that will keep it out of landfill – and maybe even give it a second life with someone else! We’ve listed some ideas in the Action Steps below.
1. Wardrobe review
- Rustle through your wardrobe and take note of what textiles or materials your clothes are made of, noting especially which are made with synthetic fibres
- Familiarise yourself with your clothing’s care instructions
- Consider investing in a Guppyfriend bag for washing your synthetic clothing in.
2. Choosing low-plastic or plastic-free clothes
- When it’s time to buying something, take the time to do your research and make a considered choice:
If you can, avoid virgin (i.e. brand new) synthetic textiles and go for items made from either natural fibres (e.g. linen, hemp – even better if it’s organic or recycled!); or recycled synthetic textiles, like recycled nylon
- Look at the brand’s overall approach to sustainability – do they have policies for sustainable packaging, ethical labour, and supply chain transparency? When brands take action on all of these things combined, it goes a long way to reducing the environmental and social footprint of the item
- Look for brands that use compostable packaging and paper swing tags instead of plastic, and if you’re heading in-store, take your own bag so you’re not bringing unnecessary plastic home with you
- Second hand shops or clothing swaps are great (and cheap!) ways to reduce demand for virgin textiles, avoid the environmental footprint of manufacturing new items, and stop perfectly wearable items being sent to landfill.
3. End of life
- If your clothing gets damaged, that doesn’t mean it’s destined for the bin! Give mending or altering a go first – yourself if you’re crafty, or local dry cleaners often offer mending services
- Before throwing away clothes that you no longer want or need, assess whether the item’s capable of having another life:
– If it’s still in good condition, organise a clothes swap with your friends, colleagues or neighbours, or donate to your local op shop
If it’s beyond having a second life, see if your local animal shelter or mechanic has a need for it
– As a final option for clothes beyond saving, look for a local sustainable textiles recycling program. You might be surprised at how many organisations and businesses are offering this including H&M, Zara and many local councils. Give it a quick Google to find your closest!
- Good On You is a great resource when it comes to researching sustainable clothing choices
- This article gives a great summary of the sustainability credentials of common clothing materials, both synthetic and natural
- This article looks specifically at recycled clothing materials.
Plus they have a comprehensive library of sustainable and ethical brands! Win win win.