Recycling plastic - green or green washing?
„Use less plastic!“
Is the message we see and hear over and over. We have deeply internalized this almost mantra like phrase and do our best to avoid the use of plastic in all areas, working towards a more sustainable lifestyle. When we then come across products labeled as eco-friendly but made of plastic, it gets us skeptical, even if they are recycled. We ask ourselves, is recycled plastic really a green alternative? There must be a catch! Perhaps regarding the energy impact, or does it affect the economy in an unexpected way?
These questions are all truly valid, and as a company that offers products made of recycled plastic, we feel we have an obligation and a wish to talk about these topics with you.
In a fast paced field of research such as this, new facts and information come up all the time. Your curiosity motivates us to make sure we keep our research up to date.
So lets dive right into the first question on recycled plastic.
HOW MUCH PLASTIC IS BEING RECYCLED WORLDWIDE?
Today, we as humans globally produce about 300 million tons of plastic waste every year according to UNenvironment. That is equivalent to the weight of the entire human
population. Shocking, right?
Of the more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic that have been produced since 1950, only about 9% has been recycled. About 12% has been incinerated while the rest — 79% — has accumulated in landfills, dumps or the natural environment, which is a LOT!
What is important to realize is that while the global production of plastic has about doubled every decade, the global recycling capacities have definitely not.
WHERE DOES THE PLASTIC WE RECYCLE COME FROM?
„A staggering 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans every year. How does it get there? A lot of it comes from the world’s rivers, which serve as direct conduits of trash from the world’s cities to the
marine environment.“ - UNenvironment
Since it is not possible for us to make a general statement as to where all companies get their recycled yarn and fabric from, we’d like to lay out transparently where boochen does.
For all products made from recycled plastic we use ECONYL®. It is produced by a supplier named
Aquafil that started developing the regeneration system in 1996 and really got going recycling-wise with the founding of the first ECONYL® plant in 2011. Today there are production plants worldwide, with the main clothing-yarn manufacturers located in Italy and China.
This yarn consists of new fibers generated from post-consumer waste from several sources, that include industrial waste and waste that had been polluting the environment. Collecting plastic waste lies not solely in the hands of Aquafil, but has been extended through the implementation of several projects such as Net-WorksTM. By collaborating with different companies and costal communities they allow a joint effort to collect plastic for recycling.
DOES IT REALLY MAKE AN ECOLOGICAL DIFFERENCE?
Yes, recycling plastic makes a huge ecological difference and here are some reasons why. Critics of recycled plastic state that the energetic effort of regenerating old plastic into new fibers is more than the energetic effort needed to create a product made of crude oil. This is a statement that must be regarded carefully, since it is simply untrue for certain methods of recycling.
Next to being aware that there are several recycling methods when it comes to plastic, it is also important to know that not all forms of plastic are the same.
They cannot all be recycled in the same way, in fact some types cannot be recycled at all.
In the case of the recycling method used for boochen products, unfortunately PET is the only type of plastic that can be regenerated through the process. But, on the bright side it is a process that, in comparison to „new“ nylon, is able to save 7 barrels of crude oil and avoid about 6,5 tonnes of CO2 eq per ton of yarn.
The global warming impact of the fibre ends up being reduced by up to 90% compared with the material from oil.
On top of that we must keep in mind what would have happened to the the plastic if it hadn’t found it’s way into your wardrobe, harming animals and the environment, breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic until finally reaching a state of an invisible yet dangerous micro plastic.
HOW DOES RECYCLED PLASTIC AFFECT THE MARKET AND ECONOMY?
Seeing something that primarily has a positive impact on the environment turn trendy is generally something to be glad about. When looking at the bigger picture it quickly becomes clear that it sadly isn’t that simple. More and more companies are creating products made of recycled plastic, which does get more of it out of the oceans and environment, however also means a higher demand for it. Plastic waste ends up being more and more expensive, every green company wants a piece of it, making it difficult, especially for smaller recycling companies, to keep up. That might lead to some having to return to crude oil as a raw material, as this becomes cheaper in the course of this development.
This shift will increasingly be visible at the end of the supply chain as well, as the prices for products made of the highly demanded recycled material will have to rise while those for „new“ plastic products will remain the same, or even sink.
Nevertheless, the solution to this issue should not be to turn ones back on recycled materials all together. Remember, it still is
a good sign that the market has a growing interest in being more sustainable. As long as making sure that the demand does not shift in such a way that plastic waste becomes are rarified commodity.
The good thing, or rather the sad truth, is that there is enough plastic waste for everyone.
The way to get to it, is where the problem lies. The supply of plastic waste and the process of regeneration have lots of potential to further expand and thereby meet the rising demand and keep prices at a reasonable level. This could happen through additional projects that collect and sort plastic waste, as well as global initiatives to optimize waste management from the point of production, over consumption until it is thrown away.
One central issue we do still see is that an industry aiming to reduce plastic being wasted is itself dependent on plastic being wasted. We must admit it is a little paradox if you think about it. One could argue that it thereby indirectly supports the use of plastic (even new).
On the one hand it relieves governments fighting the issue as well as companies creating it of their responsibility. On the other hand it relieves consumers of their feeling of responsibility, giving a false sense of rectification.
In the end it is fair to mention that the recycling industry is tackling a symptom, still it is not justified to blame it for the problem all together.
WOULD THERE BE AN ALTERNATIVE TO PLASTIC IN SWIMWEAR?
Alternative materials to plastic (polyester) are being used in swimwear, such as cotton or hemp fibre. However, there are several reasons we came to the conclusion that recycled plastic is currently the most eco-friendly method for us, here:
1. Lasts longer:
If there is one thing polyester is known for, it is that it’s extremely durable. When considering the amount of wear and tare swim and sportswear go through this is a really important factor. Our goal is to create pieces that are designed and manufactured in a way that they can last a maximum amount of time in your wardrobe, even after having been in the salty water, swooshed around by waves and shined on by the sun for hours on end.
2. Meets your needs
The saying is true, that loved clothes last. So going along with the first point of durability, there are other factors about polyester that make it a more practical material in terms of sports- swimwear, than an organic alternative. For one it is more resistent to bacteria, so it will not develop an odor as quickly. It dries faster and the even surface of the fibre does not only mean that it is comfortable on your skin, but it also glides through water a lot more smoothly.
3. Works circularly:
The funny thing about plastic is that when it was introduced into the fashion industry it was happily welcomed as a way to reduce waste, to produce more efficiently and allow circular production. Sadly this goal was truly missed due to the wasteful processes of most fashion companies. The original idea of having a material that can be regenerated many many times, still remains true though.
4. Reduces pollution
To wrap it up, despite the recycled plastic being a controversially discussed topic at boochen our wish to do our part in the fight agains polluted waters is clear. As ocean lovers we want to do our bit in raising awareness in plastic use and getting as much of it as possible out of maritime environments. And we want to take it one step further...
WHAT IS NEXT?
THE FUTURE IS CIRCULAR
We strongly believe that regarding and using materials in the same way the fashion industry has done so far is not going to get us to the point where we need to be, even if the material we are using is recycled. An excellent quote to inspire this future developments is:
"Waste is a design flaw."
We are constantly working on ways to further reduce the impact we are making as a company and see a whole picture, a sustainable flow instead of just our product as a one way shot at an eco-friendly gesture.
A step we have been excited about for the longest time, that we can now finally make a first announcement about, is that
within the coming year boochen is going circular!
We can’t disclose all details yet but here’s a little teaser: to all of you board-short wearing people out there, boochen will soon have you covered...