It seems like the latest fad phrase in the world is “plastic free” or “ban single use plastics.” However, this isn’t a fad like eating Banting or dying your hair grey as a fashion statement- this fad could actually sustain the longevity of the planet as we know it.
Researchers say that we have 12 years to change our behaviours and attitudes towards waste free-living before climate change becomes irreversible- and it’s become clear we cannot rely on major corporations and governments to do it for us. The hard work is going to have to come from the ground up: from consumers and small local businesses.
There are 3 main areas in our everyday habits we should focus on to reduce the damage that we contribute to our environment: carbon emissions from transport; our over-consumption of animal products; and our radical and unnecessary use of single use plastics. Our planet is plagued by an international culture of consumption: a throw-away culture. Now I bet that is not a culture you would describe yourself as part of- but I’m sure you notice the amount of plastic from packaging you throw away when you cook a meal, or when you order take away. Its easy to take note of and reduce your plastic when its a tangible mess in front of you.
What about when you buy yourself a new pair of socks? Or even a new blazer to wear to work? It seems like such a simple, oblivious purchase- but what goes into that fashion statement you just bought might give you a bit of a fright. I’m not just talking about the packaging it comes in: I’m talking about the actual make-up of the clothing item you have bought. What fabric is it made of: is it polyester, nylon or acrylic? Is it cotton? Is it recyclable? Or is it destined to be thrown into the dump after 3 months? What about the dyes? Where does the colour go after 3 washes?
I could give you all of the scientifically backed facts and research (of which there are many) but I’m going to explain the problem with plastic and fashion in a way that you can relate it back to your own life, which hopefully will have a stronger impact.
Most of the clothing you buy from major clothing retailers is made up of synthetic fibres- nylon, polyester and acrylic are all plastic based fibres. Neither are these clothes designed for long term use (and I will save the issue of cotton for another blog post). I just went into my cupboard and grabbed the first pair of shorts I saw from a well known clothing retailer: 100% polyester. So I could tell myself that that I will recycle it, or I will donate it, or I will even re-use it as a dish-rag and therefore I have reduced my carbon footprint. However, there’s one vital aspect: washing. I have washed these shorts over the past 4 years I have owned them, and what I have never realised is that with every wash the polyester plastic has broken up into tiny micro plastics. The micro-plastics then drain out with the water into drains, which then drains out into the rivers which in turn drains out into the ocean. Now the micro plastics from my R200 pair of shorts are going into the mouths of fish and other small species.
My simple, oblivious purchase 4 years ago has directly poisoned the dwindling ocean populations.
If you do not believe me, here is a link to a video talking to the scientist who coined the word “micro-plastic”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ko_BZhIpI1Q
That might have seemed like an information overload to you and I am sure you are pondering to yourself about what you are going to do with your hundreds of garments now. Don’t worry- everyone knows you can’t save the world in a day. Where we can help (and control) now is the problem of throwing away.
Synthetic fabrics do not decompose, and when they sit in landfills they release methane- a harmful greenhouse gas- into the atmosphere. In addition to the harmful chemicals, clothing can take up millions of cubic meters of landfill space. South Africa produces about 100 million tons of waste every year, and most of it ends up in landfills as very little is recycled.
Let’s donate our clothes. Let’s recycle our clothes. Lets hand our clothes down and reuse them. And most importantly, next time you go shopping for a new office outfit, or a dress for your birthday, consider what fabrics you are willing to buy. Fabrics made out of hemp and bamboo, for instance, have far less damaging effects to the environment. We can’t always control what we use or the decisions we have made before we were educated on a matter- but we can most definitely reduce the effects of our actions by following proper protocol.
Here are a few places where you can donate or recycle your old clothes:
Clothes to Good
45 Migmatite Drive, Zwartkop,
TEL: 074 242 7414
The Clothing Bank
Selected Woolworths stores around the country
You can drop off old clothes in their stores nation wide.
Corner Lee Road and Imam Baron
Monday to Friday 8-4pm
Oasis books and Bric-Brac shop
West end mall, old mutual offfice park
Mon to fri 8-4pm
269 Main Road, Sea Point, Cape Town 8005
Tel: 021 434 5878
Monday to Friday 09:30 to 18:30
Saturday & Public Holidays 09:30 to 17:30
Sundays 10:00 to 14:00