By Miko Takama
It’s probably no surprise to you that the fashion industry is a huge contributor to the packaging waste problem. If you buy a dress from a brand online right now, it will be wrapped in a plastic bag and packed inside a cardboard box then shipped to you by a plane or/and a truck.
Since the pandemic, we all have been buying everything from clothes to toilet paper to meals online, which means an excess of paper and plastic waste, not to mention harmful emissions from transportations. Much of the packaging waste is sent to a landfill while being a significant threat to the environment.
Plastic pollution was one of the first sustainability issues that really caught consumers’ attention in recent years. Incredible documentaries such as Sir David Attenborough’s “A Life on Our Planet” have raised awareness about the damage plastic pollution to the environment.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, plastic packaging is estimated to make up 26% of the total volume of plastic created a year, and 72% of this is thrown away. In the EU, total packaging waste in 2016 amounted to nearly 87 million tonnes or about 170 kg per person.
Moreover, billions of pre-consumer packagings are used to ship from textile factories to sewing factories, then factories to stores. In these stages, all products receive their own individual plastic protection. Although it may sound awfully wasteful, packaging to protect the textiles and garments is difficult to eliminate because damaged products mean cancelled orders.
For consumer-facing packaging, the purpose is not only the protection but also the visual experience. Packaging has become part of the branding, the total brand experience that consumers expect. But it can be a huge opportunity for brands as packaging is one of the main touchpoints to customers and communicate the brand values.
Don’t worry, there are some sustainable packaging alternatives you can look out for and check if the brand you shop from is using these packaging materials so that you can shop mindfully!
Material innovation has made some compostable alternatives viable. Compostable packaging can break down at the end of its life, providing the earth with useful nutrients. However, it has to be disposed of correctly and added to a composting bin. In America, industrial composting isn’t common and compostable bags often end up in the landfill or recycling bins where they contaminate the plastic recycling stream.
At the moment, creating and sourcing compostable bags tend to be more time-consuming and more expensive than traditional bags. The hope is that prices will drop as economies of scale kick in as more businesses start using them.
The Better Packaging Co. works with brands including Anekdot, New Nomads and Banabae. The company has created compostable, bioplastic packaging, comPOST, made from plant material such as corn starch. It is waterproof, tear-resistant, stretchy, and durable like plastic bags. It can even be thrown into food scraps or garden waste at home at the end.
Responsible Paper-Based Packaging
If you want to avoid plastic altogether, you can look for responsibly-sourced paper-based packaging. While cardboard and paper are organic materials, if they are sourced unsustainably, their use can have a huge negative impact on the environment.
Forest Stewardship Council is offering cardboards made of trees that come from responsibly managed forest. The organisation promotes sustainable forest management where the trees being harvested for forest products (wood, paper, cork, bamboo, etc) are grown in ecologically and ethically sound ways that benefit local communities. L’Oréal is one of its Promotional Licence Holder that uses FSC labelled packages for their products.
A number of brands, both sustainable and not sustainable brands, have started using recycled or recyclable cardboard packaging for online orders. Recycled and recyclable poly bags are getting easier to source as well. Recycled plastic packaging still has all the functional benefits of virgin plastic (lightweight, waterproof, and flexible), while promoting a circular system.
Fashion For Good has also launched a project in partnership with Adidas, C&A, Kering and PVH Corp, “The Circular Polybag Pilot”, to reduce the use and environmental impact of polybags in the fashion industry. The project is searching for a solution to manufacture recycled polybags, using a high percentage of post-consumer polybag waste.
Some companies are encouraging consumers to reuse packaging by offering easily reusable alternatives. By reusing the packaging, the amount of waste generated and CO2 emissions are considerably reduced. Packaging-to-Packaging saves up to 80% of CO2 compared to single-use packaging.
A Finish company RePack is offering brands and retailers reusable and returnable packaging. RePack saves resources and removes pollution through the recycling process. Customers can return the empty RePack packaging by simply dropping the empty bag to a postbox anywhere in the world. The company then cleans and redistributes the packaging for reuse. Several brands including GANNI, Filippa K and Mud Jeans are using RePack’s packaging.
Both The Better Packaging Co. and RePack’s products that allow customers to compost or return the packaging educate the customers and might even create behavioural change.
Think about how we all now bring reusable bags to the grocery stores. Consumers have shown a growing willingness to make small sacrifices and adopt more circular consumerism for the good of the planet.
If more consumers demand change, the fashion industry will move towards a plastic-free and single-use packaging-free industry faster.
The Best Way to Reduce Packaging Waste
Remember, not buying is always the best way to reduce packaging. Of course, once the lockdown is over in your countries and shops start opening up, you can go to a physical store and bring your own shopping bag so that it doesn’t require single-use packaging.
If you are willing to take action, you can contact brands that have not yet started using sustainable packaging materials and call for change!