Clothing isn’t “Zero Waste”

Did you know that basically all clothing generates plastic waste? Even if you buy a garment in store it likely still came shipped in an individual plastic poly bag.⁠

Many sustainable brands even use them and there’s a good reason – they protect the clothing from getting damaged since shipping can be quite dirty and wet. Imagine the overall environmental impact of a huge shipping container of clothing – from growing all the fibres, making and dyeing the fabrics, cutting and sewing the garments etc. which now can’t be sold because some rain leaked in and damaged all the clothes.⁠

Conscious brands like Patagonia and People Tree have looked into this and determined that the 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)

While there are some more sustainable options such as bags made from recycled plastic and brands are also experimenting with compostable and bio-plastic bags, the cost is much higher and the technology seems to still need some improvements. 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 see some better packaging but currently this plastic waste is a pretty standard part of clothing manufacturing.

The reason I want to talk about this is not to make anyone feel bad about this plastic but to highlight how there’s only so much you can do as a consumer – the supply chains and systems need innovation and reworking to solve problems like this. Supporting sustainable fashion is amazing but like with everything it’s not perfect.

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 some innovative solutions can be found.


This was originally posted to my Instagram but it generated such a great discussion that I wanted to re-post 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!

  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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