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What is ‘fossil fashion’? Uncovering the hidden oil and plastic in your wardrobe

Synthetic fabrics are the biggest culprit in fashion’s role in climate change.

When David Attenborough woke us up to the potential damage of our plastic addiction with Blue Planet, we took notice. Could fossil fashion be the next big wake up call? Being caught out at the till without a reusable carrier bag or leaving our Chillys bottle at home is an embarrassment. We’ve switched out plastic pads for reusable period pants and our bathroom cabinets are full of shampoo bars, rather than bottles.

But it seems that we’ve forgotten about plastic fashion. Huh? Plastic clothes? Sequins… pleather… and the soles of your shoes are obviously plastic-y but your entire wardrobe - including blazers, bras, tights and dresses - is likely to include 62% synthetic fabrics, made from 379 litres of oil (according to ThisIsUnfolded’s Fashion Oil calculator.)

Why is that a problem? Big oil companies are public enemy number #1 for their environmental exploitation and over 60% of textiles are made from materials derived from fossil fuels - including common fabrics like polyester, polyamide, nylon and acrylic. (Silk, by comparison, comprises just 0.2% of the global fibre market.) Fashion is ranked as the world’s third most polluting industry because of the synthetic materials it uses… Synthetics are made from fossil fuels, like oil and fracked gas, which emit greenhouse gases and are responsible for drastic climate change. Greenpeace say the oil used in fossil fashion production annually is more than the entire usage of Spain.

Synthetics dominate our shopping baskets because they are cheap, hard-wearing, lightweight and easy to maintain. Fair enough, these are useful properties if you want to buy an acrylic jumper and wear it until it’s falling apart. But the problems begin when consumers’ desire for fossil fuelled fast fashion grows and manufacturers meet this by producing more garments, at cheaper costs, and consumers wear them less. This is definitely happening. The production of polyester has doubled since 2000. This process creates 700million tonnes of CO2 a year, which is equal to the emissions from 180 coal-fired power stations - according to stats from Changing Markets. This is amount will likely double by 2030. You might want to read those statistics again.

Let’s break it down. Although the problem is, it doesn’t break down. We know that plastic doesn’t degrade, whether it’s a bottle being ingested by turtles or clothes lying in landfill. Even when your garment does deteriorate, hundreds of years later, it still leaves microplastics in the soil, water systems, inside us… Every time you wear or wash a synthetic garment, microplastics leech into the waterways and the environment. Yes, microfibres have been found in tap water and inside human blood. With only 1% of clothing getting recycled and 87% going to incineration, destruction or landfill, these fibres simply won’t disappear, however far away we throw them.

Even recycled polyester derived from plastic bottles, and often used in swimwear, isn’t such a sustainable choice because it’s likely to be polyester made from recycled plastic bottles, not recycled polyester clothing. When the plastic stays in bottle form, it can be recycled up to ten times, but when it transfers to clothing, the circular recycling potential goes linear.

With 80 billion new items of clothing made each year (and 30% of that never sold) you can see where the problems arise. The volume is truly unsustainable. Even the oil used for manufacturing the synthetic clothing that is never sold equals 240 million barrels each year…

So, if you’re keen to divert the 200 billion litres of oil that are used in making clothes each year (according to This Is Unfolded) what can you do? Wear the clothes you already have before buying more. Avoid synthetics and fossil fashion wherever you can and purchase natural fabrics like wool, silk and cotton. Wash your existing synthetics in a Guppy Friend washing bag to catch microplastics before they wash down the drain. Buy items made to order, to avoid overproduction and excess waste, and always check the labels of what you’re buying before you *add to cart.*

This article was originally published on Glamour UK.

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