Are there Petrochemicals hiding in your closet?
Plastic has many names, but no matter how much we try to gentrify plastic, it is essential to focus on what the raw material for plastic really is – crude oil.
We are all aware of the damages the indiscriminate use of plastic is causing to our planet. In more ecologically advanced countries, such as France for example, the single-use plastic bag has been banned and several countries are debating to prohibit even the releasing of balloons. Many plastic products such as coffee cups, straws, and water bottles are on the list of unpopular items. When it comes to the discussion about plastic, the mainstream focus still remains on the big and most prominent items. However, as consumers become more informed, new concerns are raised about the composition of everyday use items where plastic is 'hidden' or even purposely disguised by dishonest corporations who are accustomed to placing their profit margins before people and the planet. Our concern with the environment has triggered a wave of consumer's curiosity that is slowly changing the way entire industries behave. Informed consumers are starting to ask vital questions about the biodegradability of the products they purchase. And if the answer is no, (the product is not biodegradable) then what happens to the toxic material that will linger forever on the surface of our planet? And how will it impact the future of our children? Not only is it important to us to become aware of the proliferation of plastic in our environment, but it is also vital to learn about what kind of toxic materials are hiding in our homes, particularly in our closets.
But before we talk about what might be hiding in our closets, let's go back to the basics. So, what exactly is plastic? And why is it so harmful to our environment? According to biomedical scientist Dr. Anne Marie Helmenstine, "plastic is any synthetic or semisynthetic organic polymer. In other words, while other elements may be present, plastics always include carbon and hydrogen. While plastics may be made from just about any organic polymer, most industrial plastic is made from petrochemicals. Thermoplastics and thermosetting polymers are the two types of plastic. The name "plastic" refers to the property of plasticity, which is the ability to deform without breaking." Fascinating stuff, huh? Just for today, let us focus on one keyword that is familiar to all of us in this brief explanation – petrochemicals. It is common knowledge that products derived from petrochemicals are substances obtained by the refining and processing of petroleum or natural gas. It is also common knowledge that the oil industry is the most polluting industry in the world. Not to mention, that oil is truly one of the main reasons why many countries go to war. After all, don't you think there is a reason why Greenpeace is called GREEN Peace?
Surprisingly, the second most polluting industry in the world today is the fashion Industry. And there is a link between the two. The link is called fast fashion. If you ask Google, the quick official answer to what fast fashion is, the top result will show an overly simplistic explanation: "inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends." The real answer is way more sordid than that. Fast fashion gained the first part of its name 'fast' because, to put it simply, it blatantly copied the styles from the catwalk that were developed by other fashion houses (mostly luxury brands). Back in the 90s, the traditional fashion industry ran on a two seasons per year schedule. The runway shows were created to display the designer's creations to possible wholesale buyers, such as department stores, multiband stores, etc. Once the wholesale buyers placed their orders, the fashion house would produce the stock and deliver it. The standard turnaround for a traditional fashion house collection to hit the market used to be six months. Prior to that, traditional fashion houses had to go through and invest in the process of creation, research and development (this process used to take 6-12 months) until finally arriving at a new collection. So, products in the traditional fashion industry used to take at least 12 months to arrive in stores.
Armed with the latest creations from the catwalks, fast fashion 'spies' would then run to low labour cost countries, often in regions where one could get away with the mass-production of highly toxic materials imitating natural fibres and ask them to produce a ripped off version of entire catwalk collections within 3 to 4 months. Their focus was on price. They wanted the cheapest material, made by the cheapest labour they could find. Once the new collections from traditional luxury fashion brands hit their stores, the cheap, toxic, rip-offs from fast fashion brands would hit their stores at the same time. And since they had an entire industry to copy from, the cheap and toxic rip-offs kept on coming. Every two weeks a new ripped off collection would hit the floor of fast fashion stores. Under the pretence that fast fashion was democratic; this truly vicious cycle is responsible for creating an estimate of 13 million tons of non-biodegradable synthetic (PLASTIC) waste each year.
Synthetic fabrics, made from chemically manipulated petrochemicals, are some of the most toxic fabrications on earth. Petrochemical textile materials are immensely poisonous and polluting to the environment, as they require significant amounts of energy, water, and chemicals to produce. Not to mention that you run the risk of becoming a walking fire hazard. Did you ever think about how dangerous that is? And finally, the harming to the environment caused by oil-based textiles never stops polluting clean water sources due to the creation of micro-plastics. This means that every time that you chuck your fast fashion clothes in your washing machine, the microplastics particles and other toxins that are released by the hot water surely are not being released to where they belong. Microplastics are now everywhere, they can be found in the water we drink and cook with, in the stomachs of whales, birds and even in the gut of a small sand flea. Ultimately, contaminating our beloved oceans, possibly for a very long time, if not forever.
Personally, since becoming more aware of the hidden toxins in the clothes I buy, I have noticed that when I shop for fashion online, for example, the fabric composition of the clothes is often hidden. Purposely tucked away behind an extra click. That's a clear indication that a website is trying to make it difficult for its consumers to find out the truth. After all, when buying clothes, what information could possibly be more important than the composition? The odds are stacked against consumers in search of transparency because plastic has many other names.
Now that you know better, here is what you should look for (and stay away from) when shopping for clothes:
- Faux/Fake Fur
- Faux/Fake leather
- Faux/Fake Suede
Here is a list of fast fashion brands:
- Charlotte Russe
- Cotton On
- Fashion Nova
- FIVE FOXes
- Forever 21
- Gap Inc.
- Massimo Dutti
- Miss Selfridge
- Nasty Gal
- New Look
- Pull & Bear
- Rainbow Shops
- River Island
- s. Oliver
- United Colors of Benetton
- Urban Outfitters
Not officially classified as fast fashion but a part of the 'plastic fantastic' phenomenon:
- Lorna Jane
- The Iconic
- Victoria Secrets