With 175 nations agreeing to sign the treaty by the end of 2024, the global plastic industry will soon be changed forever. How this will impact the fashion sector, which relies heavily on fossil fuel-based materials to generate cheap clothing products?
Regardless of how convenient it is to keep using plastics, we need to give them up or face a planet that remains polluted and becomes even worse for generations to come.
This is precisely why the United Nations has put in motion a Global Plastics Treaty, which will legally bind its member states to a commitment to end plastic pollution. In doing so, leaders will ensure better protection of wildlife, the environment, and human beings from toxic materials.
Though ambitious, at least 175 nations have agreed to sign. Their collective agreement signals a recognition of how cracking down on our use of plastic will be vital to creating a better future.
That said, the Global Plastics Treaty will drastically alter the way certain industries operate. In particular, the fashion and beauty industries, which are heavily reliant on the use of plastics, will need a major overhaul.
What is the Global Plastics Treaty?
The treaty is a legally binding agreement that intends to ‘deal with the root causes of plastic pollution, not just the symptoms.’
This will require considering the total lifecycle of plastics – from production to design as well as waste management. Careful careful consideration of every step will help identify ways we can improve design to eliminate waste before it is created.
A successful reconstruction of the plastics lifecycle will result in a circular economy where plastics – when used – can be reused, remanufactured or recycled for as long as possible.
Still, the goal would be to drastically reduce the production of new plastics by at least 75 percent. Achieving this will depend on single-use plastics and packaging becoming a thing of the past.
Any UN member states who do not adhere to the requirements of the Global Plastic Treaty when it is signed in 2024 will be able to be held accountable for their actions.
What does this mean for fashion?
To meet the rules of the Global Plastic Treaty, the fashion industry will have to begin by making a handful of changes.
Brands can first start by improving the recyclability of garments on offer. This could be achieved by making use of sustainable materials and designing clothing intentionally for them to be reworked into a new product at the end of each lifecycle.
A second way the fashion industry can make an immediate change is by working more closely with governments and organisations responsible for collecting plastic waste. In doing so, brands can drastically improve their waste management infrastructure by adequately disposing of any and all plastic generated during production stages.
Finally, the industry will need to rapidly invest in the research and development of new technologies that facilitate the reduction of plastic pollution. This will result in developing and advancing existing eco-friendly materials, as well as finding novel ways of recycling while reducing the overall generation of plastic waste.
The future of fashion
Fashion of the future will look very different under a legally binding, global plastic treaty.
With virgin plastic materials off the table, there will no doubt be an increased demand for sustainable materials such as organic cotton, bamboo, and recycled polyester.
But a ban on virgin plastic materials will also give a massive economic boost for those experimenting with manufacturing vegan leathers. Already, common eco-alternatives include alternatives fashioned from mushrooms, fruit skins, and cacti.
In terms of reaching the goal of a circular fashion economy, we’ll likely see brands rethinking their designs to create clothing that is highly durable.
In-house repair services and take back initiatives aimed at giving old garments a new life cycle will likely become a standard practice for most high-street clothing companies. These services will in turn reduce the amount of clothing waste that ends up in landfills and incinerators.
So it’s safe to say that the Global Plastics Treaty will demand the fashion industry to undertake a massive restructuring. Arguably, one that is long overdue.
It won’t be easy or comfortable, but the silver lining is that it will push the boundaries of design and creativity while boosting currently underfunded sectors dedicated to creating environmentally friendly plastic alternatives.
Plus, our planet and our health will thank us for it in the long run.