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Calls for plastic warnings on UK clothing

Two thirds unaware of fashion’s contribution to plastic pollution.

5th July 2021

Innovation in Textiles
 |  United Kingdom

Clothing/​Footwear, Sustainable

A new poll has revealed that eight out of ten Britons (81%) want the UK government to make it mandatory for brands to introduce labelling which shows whether plastic is present in their clothing and accessories.

The Yonder poll of 2,091 UK adults was commissioned by A Plastic Planet. Coinciding with it, retail expert and broadcaster Mary Portas and former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas have joined more than 40 parliamentarians, academics, and campaigners calling for a labelling system in an open letter to the government. 

The poll also revealed that 72% of those surveyed are unaware of the amount of plastic used to make clothing, while two thirds were not aware of fashion’s impact on plastic pollution.

We know change is hard for the fashion industry, which has been using plastic as the cheap and easy default for decades

It comes as part of A Plastic Planet’s newly launched Plastic Free Fashion campaign – a movement designed to curb the industry’s contribution to plastic pollution. The organisation’s new open source plastic-free materials innovation freenhouse hub brings together innovators in textiles and sustainability with the fashion industry aiming to accelerate solutions. 

More than a third of all microplastics released into the ocean are estimated to derive from synthetic fibres. Laundry alone causes half a million tons of these microfibres to be released into the seas every year – the equivalent of three billion polyester shirts.

Some 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make polyester, with its production releasing up to three times more carbon than natural materials.

With the majority of Britons unaware of fashion’s contribution to plastic pollution, the open letter accompanying the poll urges the UK government to implement a labelling system similar to that being rolled out under EU legislation which shows where hidden plastic is present in certain single-use items. 

Campaigners warn there must be far greater onus placed on plastic pollution deriving from the fashion industry, believing a clear labelling system will help consumers make informed decisions when considering the environmental impact of the clothing they buy.

“For years the fashion industry’s impact on plastic pollution has gone under the radar,” said A Plastic Planet co-founder Sian Sutherland. “But now the truth is known obout the huge volumes of fossil fuels being used to make our clothing and the plastic microfibres that are being shed into our air as we wear them, and flushed down our drains with every wash. 

“We are never going to collect or recycle these tiny toxic fibres. They will pollute our planet for centuries. This is about transparency and choice. Shoppers deserve to know the impact their clothes are having on the planet. Without clear labelling, we cannot choose to change. The government must listen to public demand and introduce mandatory labels to show the hidden plastic in clothing.

“We know change is hard for the fashion industry, which has been using plastic as the cheap and easy default for decades. That’s why we are also launching the Plastic Free Fashion innovation greenhouse – totally free and open source for brands to connect with new materials and systems.”

Retail expert and broadcaster Mary Portas added: “We’re becoming increasingly aware of the textile industry’s impact on the plastic crisis. Unbeknown to people, the essential act of washing clothing is resulting in millions of plastic microfibres polluting nature. 

“Consumers, who are more environmentally conscious than ever before,want to do the right thing and it’s only right they’re given the option when buying products to see what impact they will have.

“Weaning ourselves off plastic is going to be hard so it’s great that this new innovation greenhouse is now available for all fashion brands to co-create plastic free fashion.”

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