The lesser-known single-use plastic
Whilst we were all worrying about using plastic straws, bags, packaging and toothbrushes, a lesser-known plastic culprit was lurking in the shadows. You might even be wearing this plastic chameleon right now. In fact, you probably are given that it made up 52% of global fibre production in 2018. Yes, we're talking about polyester.

Whilst I wouldn't necessarily call polyester clothes a through and through single-use plastic (unlike plastic straws), the way in which the fast fashion model is designed does encourage us to treat our clothes as single-use. We're pushed to buy new items each week, making our 'old' clothes (i.e. the ones we bought last week) redundant. Whilst there may be a few items that we do wear repeatedly (I have a Primark t-shirt from 7 years ago that's still in use), judging by the overflowing state of our wardrobes, this is definitely not commonplace.
If clothes aren't fit for you to wear, then they're not fit for anyone else
Plastic clothes in landfills and oceans

If we buy a t-shirt that is made of plastic (whether that be polyester, acrylic, nylon or another synthetic fibre), we're contributing to plastic waste; even if we wear it a dozen times, keep it for a couple of years and then decide to donate or recycle it. Why? Because approximately 25% of donated clothes end up in landfill (largely due to people donating damaged clothes – and the first rule when it comes to donating is: if clothes aren't fit for you to wear, then they're not fit for anyone else). Plus, only a meagre 1% of clothes we send to be recycled are actually turned into new garments - partly due to polyester being so difficult to recycle - whilst 87% end up in landfills (the other 12% are turned into mattress stuffing and cloths).

Having polyester sitting in landfill is harmful to the environment because, as plastic has been designed to last for a long time, it doesn't tend to decompose too well, meaning it can take up to 200 years for clothes containing polyester to break down in landfills. Even when we wash our clothes, synthetic plastic microfibres are released into the water system and end up in the ocean. So, whether it's during or after we've used our polyester clothes, they're continuously harming land and sea.
Whether it's during or after we've used our polyester clothes, they're continuously harming land and sea
Should we stop buying polyester?

When are we going to see that polyester is bad for the environment? It's even more difficult to boycott polyester than it is to boycott plastic straws because you can't just not wear clothes (well, you could but that's a topic for a different article). Fortunately for us, polyester isn't the only fibre to exist in the fashion industry. Here is a list of some sustainable fabrics that are great alternatives to polyester:

Organic cotton
Tencel™ lyocell

You can see an in-depth review of these sustainable fabrics and alternatives to polyester here.

Nobody's perfect but perhaps next time you pick up a new item, check the label to see if it contains plastic (look for polyester, acrylic or nylon). The more you do it, the more it'll become second-nature, just like any other thing you do to prevent single-use plastic waste.
Article by Catherine McAteer
Main photograph by Charles Deluvio