What is Plastic Free July and Why Does it Matter?

"What is Plastic Free July & Why Does in Matter" On an image of a blue/green ocean.

Plastic Free July is a month that brings awareness to problems associated with plastic (pollution). It’s an opportunity to understand the role plastic plays in your own life and your reliance on it as a material. Plastic Free July asks you to go “plastic-free” for one month. This is of course, not realistic. 

Plastic is so integrated into our society that to go 100% plastic-free for an entire month is basically impossible. But, the beautiful thing about Plastic Free July, and other months dedicated to things we should care about, is that they bring attention to what often needs greater advocacy. In contrast to the current climate situation, something like Plastic Free July may seem trivial. However, plastic is part of global warming and the climate crisis. 

What does Plastic Free July have to do with clothes?

Over 60% of clothing produced is plastic-based.(1) And over a third of all ocean plastic comes from the fashion and textiles industry. Fashion production isn't slowing down, and new plastic clothes are manufactured every second. Billions of these garments are low-quality and trend based. They often end up as trash in the environment. In addition, when clothes are washed, they shed microscopic fibres, and if our clothes are made of plastic, which they often are, they shed plastic into our water system. (FAQ has more info on Microfibres). Microscopic plastic fibres have been found in beer, bottled water, tap water, vegetables, air, soil, animals and human tissue. Around half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres from washing plastic-based textiles end up in the ocean annually.(2)

It’s difficult to understand that a $5 polyester or poly-blend t-shirt (or yoga pants) is similar to a to-go coffee cup or plastic grocery bag. It’s even more challenging to comprehend that there’s an unquestionable connection between the fashion industry and climate change.

Fashion and clothing are constantly overlooked and left out of environmental conversations. The dialogue around Plastic Free July is an example of this. If one third of ocean plastic is from fashion and textiles, why does fashion and textiles not make up one third of the dialogue? Reforming the fashion industry is one of the major ways we can positively affect the planet. It has everything to do with plastic and what we wear.

Text Reads: Polyester is Plastic, Acrylic is Plastic, Nylon is Plastic, Lycra is Plastic, Spandex is Plastic, Elastane is Plastic

What about Clothing Made from Recycled Plastic Fibres? 

Yes, recycling is part of the circular economy. Yes, if you need to use a plastic-based product, one made from “recycled” materials might be a better alternative. But plastic loses quality every time you reuse it, and plastic is not “recycled”, it’s downcycled, eventually ending up as non-biodegradable garbage.(3) Garments made from blends, like 80% Cotton/20% Polyester, are also hard to recycle because the fibres need to be separated, a process that requires specific infrastructure. But most of all, clothing made from “recycled” plastic STILL sheds microfibers, regardless of whether or not it’s “recycled”.

Text Reads: "Recycled Plastic is Still Plastic" in Bold text on a light grey background. foldandfray.com

Plastic Free July: Plastic Clothes, Oil & Fossil Fuel

Over 99% of plastics are from fossil fuels.(4) “Producing plastic-based fibres for textiles uses an estimated 342 million barrels of oil every year.”(5)
This is why a new polyester t-shirt is an extension of the oil industry. The recent ocean fire in the Gulf of Mexico that’s making headlines, as well as the cargo ship that spilled hazardous chemicals and plastic pellets into the ocean last month, are examples of why Plastic Free July matters, even if these events are seemingly unrelated. In this moment, Plastic Free July, despite the bougy name, takes on extra gravity. The underlying goal behind Plastic Free July is crucial for us to consider. It’s never been more relevant. 

What if Businesses Participated in Plastic Free July?

Expecting individual action to solve the climate crisis is unrealistic, especially when it’s big businesses that are responsible for most of the world’s pollution. If Fast Fashion brands were to try Plastic Free July they would have to pull the majority of their inventory due to it being plastic. Plastic is built into their businesses. It’s integral in how they operate with such low costs.

Part of our mission at Fold and Fray is to bring attention to the connection between plastic and clothing. We advocate for buying less and reducing consumption, while still providing one possible solution. We’re a business that shows it’s possible to operate nearly plastic-free. 

You don't need to buy new things for Plastic Free July. If you’re trying to be more eco-friendly and feel inspired to take action, then Plastic Free July is an opportunity. It's more than just straws, bags and coffee cups.

(1,2,5)  Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future, (2017, http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications).
(3)  Slow Factory Class: History of Plastic, by Dr. Theanne Schiros
(4) Slow Factory Class: History of Microplastics, by Madeleine MacGillivray

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