Recycling company First Mile has partnered with global sustainable fashion innovation platform Fashion for Good on a new pilot scheme that aims to tackle the issue of plastic polybag waste in the fashion industry.

The Polybag Collection Scheme Pilot is part of the Plastics Packaging Project, which was initiated by Fashion for Good in a bid to identify and scale potential solutions to reduce the impact and use of plastic packaging in the sector.

Supported by Fashion for Good corporate partners Adidas, Kering, PVH Corp, and Stella McCartney, the London-based pilot scheme will see First Mile collecting and recycling plastic polybags from retail stores located in central London. These polybags are commonly used within the fashion industry to pack, transport and store garments before they are displayed in-store.

It is estimated that 180bn polybags are produced globally every year, Fashion for Good says. Traditionally, the recycling of plastic film – from which polybags are made – poses a challenge due to the wide variety of different types and colours of film ultimately ‘downgrading’ the material into lower-value products during its processing. In contrast, the majority of fashion polybags are made from clear low-density polyethylene (LDPE) film, offering the potential of a clean and pure waste stream that can be transformed into high-quality clear film products again.

With this in mind, the Fashion for Good pilot will test the ability to develop scalable recycling infrastructure in one key city region.

The garment polybags collected by First Mile will be “transformed” into new plastic film products, closing the loop and dramatically reducing the amount of retail plastic waste that is simply thrown away, the firms say. 

At the end of the three-month pilot, Fashion for Good will collate and analyse data on the viability of separate polybag collection for brands, and First Mile will report on the recycling outcomes.

“The fashion industry needs to tackle polybag packaging waste and work together to make a closed-loop system a reality. This involves the sector committing to make current polybags more recyclable, supporting innovation in recycling, but crucially, focusing on systems for collection of polybags at all places that polybag waste is generated,” says Katrin Ley, managing director at Fashion for Good.

First Mile founder and CEO, Bruce Bratley, adds: “The spotlight has been well and truly focused on the sustainability of the fashion industry in recent months, and this is an area where recycling can make a massive difference. There is an incredible amount of plastic polybag packaging waste that is not currently recycled and will often end up in landfill or being incinerated.

“As we all strive towards achieving an efficient circular economy, maximising the recycling of these polybags is a hugely positive move.”

The Polybag Collection Scheme Pilot follows the December announcement of the Circular Polybag Pilot by Fashion for Good, which aims to reduce the use and impact of virgin polybags in the fashion industry by developing a fully circular solution based on recycled content.

It uses technology from Spanish start-up Cadel Deinking, which works to de-ink and remove adhesives from post-consumer polybag waste, producing high-quality LDPE pellets that can be used to manufacture new polybags.

Both pilots aim to investigate the means of creating a circular polybag system in the fashion supply chain.