Why I will never buy clothing made of recycled plastic (and it's not because of the plastic microfibers)

29 June 2019


Water photo created by jcomp

The other day I was scrolling through Instagram when a post stopped me. The image featured a jumper made of recycled plastic. 12 plastic bottles to be exact. However it was the caption explaining how the item of clothing was going to save us from drowning in a sea of plastic that had me rolling my eyes. I looked through the comments hoping to find someone else as unimpressed. Instead all I found was praise.

Clothing made of recycled plastics is a growing market. Shoes, pants, tops, activewear, accessories and much more are being sold to us as the solution to keeping plastics out of our oceans and landfill. These items are made of bottles and fishing nets, discarded in the ocean. Well that's how it's sold to us. Yes, the fishing nets made of plastic fibres (also known as ghost nets) are discarded. But I was not as convinced about the bottles. I asked seven companies selling clothing made of recycled bottles where these bottles were collected from and the response was a country or region; India, China and around South-East Asia. No other information was offered.

When I first started learning about plastics plaguing our oceans the idea of clothing made of ocean plastics was very appealing and sounded like it could be part of a solution. I even wrote a blog post in 2014. However, my views have changes considerably and it's not because of plastic microfibres or the impact recycling plastic has on the environment. Well, these are part of it but not the sole reason for my change of mind. 

Plastic bottles and discarded fishing nets turned into clothing, shoes and accessories will not save the oceans. This is simply a bandaid. Obviously halting plastic production would be the ultimate fix. Since we don't have access to the off switch in the plastic manufacturing facilities, one of the next best steps is providing financial assistance to organisations focusing on education and setting up clean drinking water facilities.

When I see sweatshirts made of plastic bottles selling for $55 by the brand Everlane, all I can think of is “gosh, that money could be better spent going to education programs helping communities understand the need to break free from plastic.” 

Similarly $68 on a pair of Girlfriend leggings would be much better invested in creating safe accessible drinking water in areas of this world where there is none or setting up recycling in communities that have nothing. Safe drinking water would have a huge impact beyond plastic pollution. 

Imagine what 1,110 Euros, the price of Prada's new Re-Nylon backpack, could do for a community group lobbying government to set up legislation to reduce plastic use in a country with inadequate waste collections. 

It's hard for me to watch the praise these companies receive. They are profiting from this so called solution by tapping into our habitual need we've learned to buy new stuff. Shouldn't we pass it onto those doing meaningful work in areas of the world where clean water is lacking, recycling systems are poor or non-existent and waste education needed?

With second hand clothing stores in most of our neighbourhoods filled with so much inventory or the many second hand online outlets popping up these days, wouldn't it be smarter and kinder to choose second hand or even go without, and pass on the $55 to help fix the real issues? 

It's only easy to throw out when communities have no access to education or waste services. By the way this jacket costs $175 which would provide THREE water dispensers for a school canteen in Indonesia.


But what to do with all the bottles out there? I hear you and I don't have the best solution. Ultimately I would rather see a plastic bottle turned back into a plastic bottle. Not clothing. Until plastic bottles are potentially phased out then it makes much more sense to collect and repurpose as a bottle for people in areas without access to clean drinking water. Instead of clothing companies using fishing nets while selling washing machine filters to catch the microfibres, they should change their business model. These companies just want you to continue buying their stuff without the guilt. It's part of that belief consumers should change, not the companies. It has to be both. Cute active wear is not a necessity. Clean drinking water is. 

I understand it might sound like a big ask for people to donate $50 towards an environmental group without any tangible immediate return like a sweater. I don't know where the need to have physical proof to prove we care comes from. T-shirts with eco slogans or recycled plastic backpacks have become a status symbol. This isn't just in the environmental movement, the practice is everywhere. We should be OK to pass on money to help without some kind of return.  I can assure having worked with and interacting in many grassroots environmental organisations, our donations are pivitol when it comes to fixing clean water, education, waste and recycling services.


There are a number of organisations tackling plastic pollution closer listed below. But before clicking through think about your own neighbourhood or a region in your country where that money can uplift. Here in Australia half of Aboriginal communities have no rubbish bin or waste pick up service. This is why I have chosen to donate 5% of my profits from Waste Not and Waste Not Everyday to the organisation Waste Aid Australia to help change this. Here are suggestions for other groups and projects:

Donations for A Plastic Oceans go towards facilitator education programs within local communities in local languages, creating youth educational films, installing Elkay water refill station at under-served schools and supporting local activism.

The Oliver Ridley Project works to not only remove ghost nets from oceans but also provide educational outreach while working with fisheries to minimise and reuse fishing gear.

Bottle for Botol sets up education, reusable alternatives and tools to empower students to create change in their own communities.

There is also projects like Sri Lanka's Poseidon Army, Cambodia's first Nature Discover Centre, help build an accessible library out of eco-bricks in Malawi, fund a small island recycling & waste management in Fiji, provide assistance to Reef Check Malaysia to create a waste management and recycling system on a Borneo island and Reduce Plastic in Tanzania. I could continue with this list.

The greatest teaching during my “journey” to create less waste and reduce plastic is learning to pause before buying anything and meditate on how the impact my money (or other resources like time and physical energy) can be used to help lift up others. I realise it's a luxury to think like this, so I don't take the responsibility lightly. And that's not to say I'm perfect in that thought 100% of the time. But as always, I try. 

I live in an area with robust recycling and waste management, quality environmental education within reach and clean drinking water in abundance. This scenario is not the same everywhere and by redirecting my purchase hopefully one day it will be. 

Sneaky plastics in our food packaging

20 June 2019

Did you see the video posted by MEL Science revealing the hidden layer of plastic inside aluminium cans? If you missed it, watch it below




Plastic is typically used in canned food and drinks to stop metal leaching into the food or drink. Carbonated drinks and some foods have high acid levels meaning they leach faster. Even if the food are not high in acid the metal can still leach. If you see cans are BPA free this doesn't mean it's free of plastic, instead the BPA has been replaced with BPS or BPF. You can read here about studies being conducted on the BPA replacement as to whether they are safe or not here.

Because the plastic amount is small it's typically removed during the recycling process usually by high heat when cans are recycled.

These type of plastic linings are not solely in aluminium cans either. The metal lids on glass jars will have a lining of plastic too just in case the food comes in contact with the lid. This is the main reason why businesses accepting glass bottles and jars for refill will not use the metal lids as the plastic will be removed during the sanitation process. Those metal lids are usually sent off for recycling and they buy new ones, or use plastic lids.

There are other types of packaging with sneaky plastic hiding within. The most popular item most people will know is the cartons used for milk (including plant based milks) and juices, where the plastic is layered between the cardboard. The plastic helps stop the milk from leaking while lasting longer on the shelf. Take away cups used for coffee also have a layer of plastic otherwise that hot drink would leak also. Even some tea bags contain plastic.

Below are a few items that have have plastic linings and other chemicals you may not know about.

A cardboard box at a conference (food was supplied), coffee cup found outside the house (my street sits just off a main shopping strip. Alot of coffee cups get left behind near us), ice cream (again, another littered item) and the chip cup (asked staff for the chips on the plate but the request didn't make it to the kitchen).



To find out if a cardboard or paper based item like the ones above have a lining of plastic is simple. I cut off a piece and place into hot water, then let it sit for 10 minutes. The plastic will seperate from the cardboard. Each one had a lining of plastic. It was the cardboard box which surprised me the most. But there you go, plastic is sneaky and almost everywhere. This type of plastic could be recycled via RedCycle soft plastic drop off at the major supermarkets...but who is going to do that?? Plus the resources going into creating these for a single use is not needed for most of us.


A friend was going to throw out this pack of puff pastry. It has been over six year since I had used this kind of product but I knew there was thin layers of plastic between the pastry but as the cardboard outer packaging caught the light I saw a sheen that had me wonder if this had sneaky plastic. So I did the hot water test...and yes, there was hidden plastic again.



I'm not anti plastic, simply anti the misuse. With the rise in awareness of plastic pollution, I'm beginning to see more and more food businesses swap out takeaway food packaging for paper based options because they want to do the right thing. However these will be lined with petroleum based plastic or plant-based plastics. The thing is, how would a customer know there is even plastic lining these items let alone what type of plastic. If it can be recycled will the lining be recycled with the paper? will it break down? or will it be sent to landfill? If people think it's compostable at home will the sneaky plastic end up in the compost pile? None of this information is available on the packaging and staff rarely know themselves. And if it's not lined with plastic will the packaging contain PFAS?

Related blog posts: Is shopping at bulk stores or co-ops the best way to reduce packaging waste? Zero waste shopping does not exist, is there a solution?

So who needs to make changes. The Government should make it a requirement for all companies to explain in detail on the packaging what it's made of similar to the The Australasian Recycling Symbol. Ingredients for food are mandatory so why not our packaging. If a cardboard based product is going to be easier to compost with a compostable plant based lining, then why not enforce this as the standard lining too. That way there is no confusion for composting at home and encourage more public composting bins. I'm not 100% aware what would happen should this kind of compostable plastic lined paper end up in the recycling stream and i've been waiting for answers from a couple of sources. Plastic water bottles and plastic containers made of compostable plastics do contaminate regular plastic recycling. 

As you can see there is a lot of processes that need to change. The funny thing is the solutions are easy for most of us when it comes to avoiding this confusion in take-away packaging:

  1. Take the time to sit down and eat a meal on a real plate. Get away from the office desk and use the time to enjoy a break.
  2. Order takeaway in your own container. Simply phone ahead to see if the cafe or restaurant will allow you to bring a container to use instead of a single-use option. Visit TrashlessTakeaway.com.au  for a list in your area.
  3. Australian businesses Returnr and ReTub are partnering with business encouraging the reuse and refill of food containers. Customers simply put down a deposit for a reusable container when paying for the meal. Customers get the deposit back when the container is returned. This system is not new, India has been offering returnable tifins for a long time.

I understand some of our food will always need packaging including takeaway. And I'm aware we won't give up take-away food, not because our modern society loves it, simply humans have always enjoyed some form of takeaway food. 

However when I see what looks like complex “solutions” to the problems of packaging, in particular takeaway, rarely do there conversations address our need to change mindsets. Packaging made of seaweed or mushrooms....great, but how much would we need to create this for takeaway packaging alone. Does it just exacerbate the go go go loop we are stuck in. The packaging needs to change but also so do we. 

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