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Fashion Seeks Eco Alternatives to Single-Use Plastic Packaging

The fashion industry is swimming in single-use plastics, and the ubiquitous polybag is just one of the many reasons why.

Thin, lightweight and made from low-density polyethylene—No. 4 plastic in recycling-speak—the appeal of these bags is undeniable: They protect shoes, clothing and accessories from mold-promoting moisture as they transit from factories to warehouses to stores, and increasingly, porch steps.

Yet less than 14 percent of the nearly 86 million tons of plastic packaging produced worldwide is recycled every year, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The rest is landfilled, incinerated or cast adrift to clog up waterways and poison marine life.

Fashion for Good in Amsterdam believes there is a better alternative. The innovation platform announced Tuesday the Circular Polybag Pilot, a three-to-five-month project  to “explore a solution” for curtailing the use and impact of the roughly 180 billion virgin polybags employed by the fashion supply chain each year.

The idea is to make the flow of polybags “truly circular,” it said. Existing recycled polybags, the organization says, use mostly pre-consumer offcuts from the production floor that are, for the most part, free of inks or adhesives.

“Crucially, this is not a fully circular solution as it depends on the sourcing of this high-quality waste,” it said in a statement. “And current technology means other sources of abundant feedstock are hard to utilize.”

Compostable materials “are interesting” but can be tricky, Fashion for Good wrote in a white paper about polybags, which it published Tuesday.

“Compostable materials are interesting for many brands but the infrastructure to actually collect and then compost these materials is currently lacking in most places,” it said.

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For now, Fashion for Good is banking on a polybag that might be more readily disposed of. Using technology by Spanish firm Cadel Deinking, a member of Fashion for Good’s Accelerator Programme, the initiative seeks to create a “suitably clear” recycled polybag made from a high percentage of post-consumer polybag waste, including items contaminated with ink and adhesives.

Recapturing bags after use is another key concern. Without a recovery system in place, “better” polybags will still pollute like their virgin counterparts.

“The pilot aims to validate and further commercialize this new supply of waste for recycled content polybag production, returning the recycled bags back into circulation within the supply chain,” Fashion for Good added.

Marquee brands such as Adidas, C&A, Kering, Otto Group and PVH Corp. have already thrown in their support. Results and learnings from this initial pilot, Fashion for Good noted, will be disseminated in a report upon its completion, sometime in early 2020.

Fashion for Good isn’t the only party looking to stem the tide of plastic packaging.

On Friday, India’s Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail (ABFRL) joined hands with Circular Apparel Innovation Factory to launch a “first of its kind” innovation challenge to uncover planet-friendlier alternatives to virgin plastics. The Doen Foundation, a Dutch philanthropic organization, and Intellecap, the advisory arm of investment firm Aavishkaar Group, are serving as “anchor partners.”

India generates some 26,000 metric tons of plastic waste every day, according to the country’s Central Pollution Control Board. Roughly 43 percent of manufactured plastic is used for packaging, most of it single use.

“We are hoping to find solutions to one of the industry’s biggest challenges of reducing usage of single use plastic packaging,” Ashish Dikshit, managing director of ABFRL, said in a statement. “We are confident that the innovation challenge will help the industry to transition to circular business practices.”