Unwrapping Plastic Fashion Packaging: What are the Eco-Friendly Alternatives?

Unwrapping Plastic Fashion Packaging: What are the Eco-Friendly Alternatives?

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Image Credit: noissue

Although plastic packaging represents a relatively small portion of the general affect of a garment’s lifecycle, it’s extremely seen to customers and alerts a model’s dedication to sustainability.

In reality, based on a consumer packaging perception study, 77% of Germans mentioned the packaging would affect their purchasing decisions and across Europe, almost 80% are willing to pay more for an eco-friendly packaging possibility. 

In addition, regulators world wide are additionally tightening controls on plastic. European Parliament, for example, has mandated that 55% of plastic packaging within the EU market must be recyclable by 2030. In 2018, greater than 250 global organizations, together with Inditex, Marks & Spencer, H&M, representing 20% of plastic packaging consumption globally, have pledged to deal with the worldwide plastic disaster. (Whether that pledge turns into motion, we will see.)

But our clothes nonetheless want some types of safety—one thing light-weight, sturdy, waterproof, and low cost. Without it, most merchandise is not going to attain prospects in presentable situation, and the environmental impact of broken clothes that’s thrown away is way bigger than the bag that comes with it. 

Are there alternate options that may carry out the identical perform, with out the heavy toll on the surroundings? Sort of! We’ve put collectively an inventory of sustainable options and in contrast their advantages and trade-offs:

Reducing Packing: The Low Hanging Fruit 

The most cost-effective method is to cut back plastic use by both bundle-packing or reducing the packaging dimension. Prana, for instance, may have slashed polybag use nearly totally by the autumn of this 12 months by rolling the clothes after which bundle-packing them into recycled paper envelopes with recyclable raffia ties. However, unpacking clothes at distribution facilities and repackaging them earlier than transport out to prospects can add important labor and logistical costs. It additionally requires collaboration with suppliers to remove polybags from the supply, and collaboration with retailers, the place particular person packaging is the norm.

If you don’t obtain your product in a plastic bag, it doesn’t imply the availability chain was plastic-free. Someone could have taken a plastic bag off earlier than sending your items to you. For instance, United by Blue has been transport their e-commerce orders in 100% recycled kraft envelopes and bins printed with VOC-free ink. But they nonetheless have to deal with the inconvenience of taking out the merchandise from factory-standard poly baggage within the distribution middle, and sending them to TerraCycle for recycling.  TerraCycle, nevertheless, was just lately sued for not dwelling as much as its recycling claims. 

Thus, bundle packing can be extra viable for merchandise headed to brand-owned retail shops and for firms (like direct-to-consumer manufacturers) whose provide chain permits for such flexibility. According to a Fashion for Good survey, bundle packaging is extra common amongst worth retailers. 

For firms with very complicated stock administration and replenishment programs, the place particular person clothes must be scanned, lowering the size and weight of the packaging is a greater possibility.  A working example is Patagonia, which was in a position to cut plastic use by half just by altering the way in which garments are folded. Similar initiatives have been explored and carried out by 38% of brands surveyed by Fashion for Good. 

Recycled Plastic Bags: Popular Option however Not Enough 

Another common method to scale back virgin plastic use is to include recycled content material into packaging, like Kohls, Patagonia, and Everlane. Many suppliers at the moment are providing polybags with as much as 100% recycled content material with out compromising on aesthetics and performance. As for certifications, search for the Global Recycled Standard (GRS), Recycled Claim Standard (RCS), and the upcoming Recycled Material Standard (RMS), which is designed particularly to validate recycled content material in packaging. 

The mostly used polybags, LDPE (low-density polyethylene), could be recycled if they’re dry, clear, and freed from meals residue. But they require separate assortment and processing. A How2Recycle label can be useful for customers. 

Although most moldable packaging is technically recyclable, in observe, it’s often thrown away. Despite there being over 18,000 plastic bag collection sites in North America, akin to Walmart and Target, the plastic movie recycling price is barely 12.5% in the US and 20% in Europe. Contaminants akin to ink, labels, and adhesive additionally have an effect on the standard of finish merchandise.

That is why merely switching to recycled plastic baggage is just not sufficient. We want a scientific strategy that ensures a gentle provide and demand for the marketplace for recycled plastic and that builds up corresponding infrastructure. Incorporating recycled content material into packaging must be mixed with designing for recycling. For instance, utilizing laser marking as an alternative of ink, avoiding paper adhesive stickers, and instituting brand-funded plastic bag assortment packages. Patagonia, for instance, collects polybags at its distribution facilities in North America and sends them to recyclers akin to Trex or Novolex, who make new plastic baggage or decking supplies. 

Still, utilizing recycled plastic baggage can solely be an intermediate resolution, given the issue in sorting and assortment, and the energy-intensive and polluting recycling course of. In the long term, we must always deal with phasing out plastic altogether, which factors us to …. biodegradable packaging.

Biodegradable Packaging: Not the Silver Bullet however Could Be Better

Biodegradable baggage, generally created from PLA (Polylactic acid) and PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates), are created from corn, sugarcane, or different starchy crops. Biodegradable baggage have decrease carbon emissions than conventional plastic and may break down in the precise surroundings. In 2017, vegan luxurious model Stella McCartney switched plant-based biodegradable packaging by TIPA for single-use plastic. These baggage are designed to totally decompose in 180 days. 

Beware: There are various kinds of biodegradability.  If you see baggage labeled with certification like EN 13432, EN 14995, ASTM D6400 or ASTM D6868, then they’re industrially compostable. More common and reasonably priced, these PLA-based baggage can’t decompose within the landfill or marine surroundings and require a excessive temperature and managed surroundings sometimes offered by municipal composting programs, that are uncommon within the overwhelming majority of the top market. Most US cities lack the necessary infrastructure to correctly deal with bioplastics,  with a nationwide average biowaste diversion rate of 6.1%. 

A dearer, however simpler to biodegradable possibility is home compostable PHA baggage, which might decompose at ambient temperature. There are not any worldwide requirements for house compostability but, however two nationwide certifications can be found: French customary NF T 51-800 Australian customary AS 5810. Even although PHA-based baggage can totally break down within the backyards, yet the food composting rate in the U.S. is only 4.1%.

Marine degradability has no constant customary but for the reason that trade-offs and advantages haven’t been sufficiently researched. 

Biodegradable baggage produce other drawbacks. In addition to issues that bioplastic could compete with biofuel or meals manufacturing for uncooked supplies,  life cycle assessment studies additionally present that bioplastics entail bigger environmental impacts in land use, freshwater consumption, and fertilizer use. To mitigate these unintended penalties, some modern firms like Mango Materials are engaged on producing biodegradable plastics from biowaste or methane, a greenhouse fuel. But these options are but to be commercialized.

Another limitation is that when disposed of incorrectly, biodegradable plastics can contaminate conventional plastic recycling streams or release methane (a greenhouse fuel 20 occasions stronger than carbon dioxide) within the landfill. Therefore, manufacturers and retailers must be aware of what diversion programs are literally obtainable to most customers and supply clear and outstanding directions on correct disposal

Paper Packaging: Some Critical Trade-Offs 

Paper-based alternate options appear to fare higher than plastic baggage in client notion because it’s more widely collected on the curbside and wooden is a renewable useful resource that biodegrades. H&M introduced that it was piloting paper-based alternatives in India and deliberate to scale the answer.

But paper packaging additionally comes with challenges. For some manufacturers, a key packaging requirement is transparency, for higher inspection, high quality management, and scanning barcodes by means of the bag. It would possibly nonetheless work if the packaging is made with a translucent window (akin to glassine paper) or for manufacturers which have extra flexibility in stock administration, although.

Paper performs higher than plastic in recycling charges, however fares poorly in different environmental classes, akin to land use and eutrophication (which causes algal blooms that kill fish). And you might discover this stunning, however virgin paper baggage even have higher carbon emissions than their plastic counterparts as a result of it requires plenty of power to grind up the wooden and create pulp, whereas plastic baggage derive from by-products of petroleum refining. You want to make use of the paper bag three times to match the affect of a polybag. So in case you are going for paper alternate options, I’d counsel sourcing from 100% recycled paper or FSC-certified paper to mitigate the chance of trade-offs.  

But there may be one other drawback relating to paper: it’s not as sturdy. Most of our clothes journey lengthy distances from the manufacturing factories to cargo ships, then distribution facilities and shops, passing by quite a few conveyor belts, loading docks, and arms, earlier than reaching us. It is tough for a paper bag to outlive such a protracted journey and shield the product inside from moisture, dust, and tears. 

Reusable Packaging – Requires Robust Reverse Logistics 

Compared to single-use packaging, reusable alternatives can lower as much as 80% of emissions and 87% plastic waste. 

Some progressive brands have been experimenting with packing clothes in lightweight, sturdy, reusable baggage, however discovered it difficult to get sufficient packaging again from prospects. Even when reusable baggage did make their method from customers to the shop or distribution middle, it’s nonetheless difficult to consolidate them and ship them again to manufacturing websites, that are largely primarily based abroad. Reusable packaging may probably be extra impactful in future conditions the place manufacturing is positioned nearer to market, and if the vast majority of manufacturers, producers, and logistics firms may align on a standardized packaging system. 

At current, reusable packaging applies higher to enterprise fashions which have established sturdy reverse logistics programs, akin to Rent the Runway, Stich Fix, or Thredup. 

Another method is to design the packaging to be multi-functional. For instance, start-up Returnity has designed reversible mailer baggage that may be turned inside out right into a tote bag, make-up bag, or duffle baggage that prospects can reuse for different functions.  However, not each model can do that, as a result of customers solely want so many reusable baggage. (Just ask any eco-consumer burdened by 50 “eco-friendly” reusable branded totes.)


In abstract, there isn’t any one-size-fits-all resolution for sustainable packaging, every firm has to stability the advantages and tradeoffs of various alternate options and select what works for his or her particular provide chain. It is pivotal for manufacturers to increase the main focus from simply the supplies to the system as an entire. Admittedly, no firm can handle this systematic drawback single-handedly. Supporting insurance policies like prolonged producer duty, diverting subsidies away from the petroleum business to plastic-free alternate options and infrastructure, business standardization of packaging, would have a lot increased leverage in catalyzing a paradigm shift. Nevertheless, beneath are what manufacturers and retailers can do now to contribute to a extra eco-friendly packaging future:

1) Try to remove pointless packaging, and work with suppliers to attenuate packaging dimension, thickness, or use bundle packing wherever potential.

2) Design the present polybag for simpler recycling by utilizing mono-materials and addressing points with labels, stickers, and ink. Incorporate recycled content material (GRS or RCS licensed) at any time when potential, and implement packaging recycling packages in distribution facilities, warehouses, and retail shops.

4) For firms with present reverse logistics programs in place (akin to rental, refill, or take-back program) or that manufacture close to the market, pilot reusable packaging.

5) For manufacturers that target markets the place the composting system is well-established, think about switching to home-compostable packaging, ideally made with secondary feedstock. Be positive to incorporate clear disposal directions for customers.

6) If an organization’s provide chain and stock administration system has sufficient flexibility to accommodate paper-based packaging, go for recycled or FSC-certified paper. I’d additionally suggest combining this strategy with a centralized recycling system on the distribution middle and warehouses to recycle any polybags from the manufacturing unit.

Companies that Provide More Sustainable Fashion Packaging

Noissue makes a completely backyard compostable mailer, which is waterproof, sturdy, write-able, stick-able, and printable, and it’s a lot stretchier than an ordinary polybag. The mailers are created from a mixture of PBAT (a biodegradable polymer) and PLA (which is made up of plant supplies like field corn and wheat straw). Its manufacturing companions carry the TUV Austria certification for house compostability. If you’re a small model, noissue’s minimums are ridiculously low in comparison with each different firm on the market: solely 100 for his or her mailers and 250 for his or her tissue paper, stickers, and tape.

LimeLoop produces sturdy, light-weight, reusable packaging from upcycled billboard vinyl and recycled cotton. Consumers can select to obtain their product in a LimeLoop Shipper by way of an opt-in program at take a look at. LimeLoop additionally established a platform to permit collaborating manufacturers and prospects to trace the shipper’s whereabouts and environmental affect information. 


EcoEnclose affords a variety of packaging choices, together with 100% recycled poly mailer (50% from post-consumer waste), kraft mailer, transport field, corrugated bubble for void fill, flap and seals, transport labels, stickers, all created from recycled supplies. The firm additionally has an in depth breakdown of every product, displaying the quantity of recycled content material, and data on recyclability, and compostability. EcoEnclose additionally works with black algae ink, soy-based, and water-based ink to mitigate the unfavourable affect from printing. 

Repack makes reusable mailer baggage from recycled post-consumer polypropylene. The packaging is available in three adjustable sizes that are designed to final at the least 20 cycles. At the top of life, Repack works with companions to upcycle the mailer baggage into different high-value merchandise, akin to laptop computer sleeves and passport cowl. The firm can also be engaged on transiting to a extra environment friendly transportation system, utilizing automobiles fueled by renewable power, and funding carbon discount/seize initiatives to mitigate the emissions in its operations.