With the fashion industry’s use of packaging responsible for 26% of the total plastic created globally each year, moving to sustainable options is an obvious step. There is also increased pressure to reduce this waste due to new legislation against single-use plastics, and from consumers, who are demanding such changes. Creativity and innovation from brands, along with cooperation from both the public and private sector are key to making a real difference.
The main efforts by fashion brands so far include encouraging consumers to reuse disposable bags, providing reusable bags, replacing plastic packaging with paper and encouraging recycling or using packaging and bags made from recycled plastic.
While it’s positive that brands are trying to do something, many of these efforts fall short of actually making a difference.
Fashion blogs are abuzz with the seemingly endless ways consumers can reuse the plastic bags that brands use to ship their products. But even if a plastic bag is used multiple times, it still never really goes away and will stay with us – like all plastics – for hundreds of years, turning into microplastic that pollutes our soil, seas and even in the human body, presenting serious ecological and health threats. Recycling is also not the solution many consumers and brands hope it will be; only about 11% of flexible plastic – the material usually used for shipping goods – actually makes its way to recycling programmes; the rest is not recycled due to contamination and poor economic motivations. It is often cheaper to produce new plastic – and many items made from recycled plastic require new plastic as well.
In addition, although cloth and paper bags are often beautiful and feel “natural,” they are also not ideal solutions; as they require the use of trees, high volumes of water, and involve a polluting manufacturing process. From a practical point of view, they also do not sufficiently keep goods clean and dry during the shipping process.
Composing a sustainable packaging solution
A long-overlooked but growing solution is to use compostable bags and packaging. Composting organic waste dates back to many ancient civilizations, including in the Neolithic period more than 10,000 years ago, and among the Egyptians and Greeks. Composting has always been a way to increase soil health and crop yields. Today, with soil erosion and climate change, composting is even more critical – both to grow enough food for an expanding global population and to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses, which are a main contributor to the warming atmosphere. When items, including food and yard scraps and packaging materials are composted instead of landfilled, they prevent methane from being released into the environment.
Therefore, more brands should consider compostable packaging. Brands like Apiece Apart, Pangaia and Gabriela Hearst have already taken this step. This type of packaging, which disintegrates into valuable agricultural compost when disposed in compost facilities or in home compost piles, can be used for shipping items to consumers, packaging items purchased in stores, and by brands’ logistical teams to store and ship materials and finished items all along the supply chain. Generally, compostable plastic is transparent and flexible, offering many of the same benefits as its traditional counterpart.
Brands that use compostable plastic need to make sure it has been tested; is certified; and comes with clear instructions for consumers and other users about how and where to compost it.
But this can’t happen in a vacuum. Local authorities need to offer home composting pick-up that accepts compostable packaging; in other words, composting needs to become a larger part of waste-management. For consumers, getting certified compostable materials to a place where they will actually be composted should be as easy as tossing out other sorts of garbage. Brands’ warehouses and other supply chain points also need to work with composters to process their compostable waste.
The potential of compostable materials presents a significant opportunity for brands. As overall composting rates grow, compostable packaging will become the ultimate solution – not just for reducing plastic pollution but for nourishing the earth. By embracing compostable packaging, the fashion industry has the potential to make a lasting impact on the environment.
About the author: Daphna Nissenbaum is the CEO and co-founder of TIPA Corp., a leading developer and manufacturer of compostable packaging, founded in Israel in 2012. Before launching TIPA, Nissenbaum was CEO of the Caesarea Center for Capital Markets and Risk Management at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya.
Daphna holds an MBA specialising in Marketing and Entrepreneurship from IDC Herzliya (graduated with honors) and a BA in Economics and Software Engineering from Bar Ilan University.