The Secret Plastic Waste That Comes With Your Clothes

Did you know that basically all clothing is shipped in plastic? Even if you buy a garment in store, it likely still came shipped in a wasteful plastic poly bag.⁠

Poly bags are typically made from polyethylene or polypropylene, materials that require crude oil and don’t biodegrade. Even so, many brands use them because they protect the clothing from getting damaged during shipping, which can be quite dirty and wet. Without the plastic, entire shipping containers of clothing could be ruined. Imagine the overall environmental impact and labour required to make that clothing — from growing all the fibres, making and dyeing the fabrics, cutting and sewing the garments, and more — which now can’t be sold because some rain leaked in and damaged all the clothes.⁠ Poly bags also keep the clothes clean in shipping warehouses or during storage.

Conscious brands like Patagonia and People Tree have looked into this issue and determined that plastic bags are necessary since the alternative is a huge amount of clothing waste.⁠ Patagonia has a particularly in-depth public study and assessment of their plastic packaging. Personally I agree that if the choice is between a ton of wasted clothes or plastic bags, the plastic waste is less bad, but I also really hope innovative solutions can be found.

Some brands use bags made from recycled plastics, and others are experimenting with compostable and bio-plastic bags — all positive steps, but they are more expensive and the technology still needs improvements. Plus, even bags that are compostable often end up in landfills, where they can’t properly biodegrade. Clothing brands have also shared that certain stores and distributors have very specific requirements about how the clothing is packaged, which doesn’t leave much room for finding better alternatives.

Hopefully with time and awareness we’ll have better options, but currently this plastic waste is a pretty standard part of clothing manufacturing. It’s important to realize there’s only so much you can do as an individual — the supply chains and systems need innovation and reworking to solve problems like this. Supporting sustainable fashion is a great step to take, but like with everything it’s not perfect. 


This was originally posted to my Instagram but it generated such a great discussion that I wanted to repost it here in a more accessible place. And I’d love to keep the discussion going: What do you think about clothing packaged in plastic? Do you buy new sustainable clothing or avoid it for this reason? Also, eco brands: I’d love to hear your thoughts/experiences and how you approach this challenge!

Updated March 5, 2022

  1. Salina
    | Reply

    Thank you for bringing this up! This is why thrift store shopping or buying high quality locally made items is the most sustainable way to dress one’s self. Personally I stick with thrift stores so that I can afford to splurge on a couple of brand new ethical, LOCAL items a year. Last year both of my new purchases were from an amazing brand called Uniform Handmade. They are made in my Province and as such they didn’t have to wrap it in anything, I picked it up directly from them.

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