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We all know about plastic pollution—the microplastics that are shed and the general waste caused. And we know how difficult it is to recycle a product that takes 500 years to biodegrade. But the harm plastics do starts even before they are made.

Plastics have fuelled the fast fashion cycle. Cheap, flexible materials such as polyester and nylon make up about 60% of clothing and 70% of household textiles. They are so cheap, in fact, that disposal has become an essential part of the fast fashion business model. The average garment is discarded after being worn for an average of just 7-10 times. The best way of combatting this is, of course, to design things to be made from durable, natural materials that people want to keep.

Plastics are made from fossil fuels and they emit greenhouse gases from cradle to grave. Right now, they are responsible for up to 8% of oil consumption globally, and unless action is taken, that figure will only rise. In fact, from 2020 to 2040, analysis suggests that BP expects plastics to represent 95% of the net growth in demand for oil.

“Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet,” a report by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a nonprofit environmental law organisation found that if we continue to rely on plastics as heavily as we do, they will account for 20% of oil consumption by 2050.

Oil, gas, and coal are the building blocks of plastics and their extraction and transportation are carbon-intensive. The CIEL report estimated that extracting and transporting natural gas for plastic creation in the United States alone accounts for 12.5 to 13.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. These emissions are all produced before the plastic is actually made.

Refining plastics is equally greenhouse-gas intensive. In 2015, emissions from the manufacturing of ethylene, which polyethylene plastics are made from, were 184.3 to 213 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. That is about as much as 45 million passenger vehicles emit each year, according to the CIEL report. Carbon dioxide emissions from ethylene production are projected to expand by 34% between 2015 and 2030.

On average, one tonne of plastic produces five tonnes of CO2, roughly twice the CO2 produced by a tonne of oil.

And what happens at the end of the life of a plastic product? Well, it is harder to recycle than its manufacturers and sellers would have you believe.

For the tiny proportion of plastic that is recycled, the main method used is chemical. Chemical recycling involves using solvents on it to make either fuel, or feedstocks for making more plastic. Plastic to fuel conversion, unsurprisingly, produces greenhouse gases, compounding the problems caused when the plastic was created. Plastic to feedstock conversion produces toxic waste.

Greenpeace addressed this problem in a report published in 2022. They found that the amount of plastic actually turned into new products has fallen to about 5% of all that is produced. And as the increasing production of plastic places more strain on the capacity to recycle, that figure will drop even lower.

According to the Ellen McArther Foundation’s New Plastic Economy Initiative for something to be called recyclable, 30% of it must be recycled. Greenpeace found that no plastic can be called recyclable because no types of it have ever achieved anything close to that rate.






Working with our partners at Arts Thread to develop lifelong learning and career opportunities for students of fashion and design. Our partnership provides the opportunity to compete on a world stage, participate in industry led workshops, set up an outstanding portfolio and gain access to the resources that will kickstart careers in fashion and design.