As things stand right now, plastics are pretty indispensable in our day-to-day life. They’re everywhere, from the device you’re reading this on to the clothes you’re wearing. But they’re also extraordinarily bad for the environment, and we’re (hopefully) in the process of figuring out ways to use less of them.
Patagonia, a company that walks the walk, put together the film you see above. The Monster in Our Closet “uncovers the dangerous threads that connect the clothing industry to the oil and gas industry and what we can all do on the individual, business, and government levels to create the change that our planet needs.”
Want to hear something that’ll throw you for a loop? Basically every single piece of plastic ever made still exists in some way or another. Unless it’s been incinerated or launched into space, it’s still here. According to Patagonia, “less than 10 percent of plastic in the U.S. is actually recycled, 16 percent is burned, and the rest piles up in landfills.”
It’s a strange line to draw, but a line can be drawn directly from the oil and gas industry to the shirt on your back. Check the tag on your shirt. Most likely, it’ll have a high percentage of something that’s made from plastic fibers. And plastic fibers, for the most part, begin their (very long) lives as crude oil. From there, they’re turned into different chemicals, heated up, and turned into stuff like polyethylene terephthalate, more commonly referred to as PET, or polyester.
“The UN estimates that 60 percent of clothing is made from these types of plastics,” Patagonia says. “By 2030, it’s expected to reach 73 percent. That’s welcome news for Big Oil and gas. As transportation moves away from fossil fuels, experts say plastic will become a lucrative way for the industry to maintain demand.”
The problem, as you’ve likely figured out by now, is that using petroleum products as a raw material for something as ubiquitous as clothing is adding a whole lot of unnecessary stressors to the already struggling environment.
“Burning fossil fuels to create those synthetic materials is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions,” Patagonia explains. “Those emissions warm the planet, increase ocean acidification and release harmful — sometimes toxic — air pollutants.”
One way to curb our insatiable appetite for plastic is to simply reuse it. But sadly, on a global scale, a minuscule amount of plastic ever actually gets recycled. Patagonia, though, used recycled sources in 83 percent of its plastic fabrics in 2021. Sure, it’s not perfect, but you can’t let good be the enemy of perfect, right? So why use plastic at all? Well, we’ve just become super used to them and we demand that our clothing be… well, clothing that will keep us warm and dry.
“Plastics in clothing maintain durability and offer critical — sometimes life-saving — technical performance factors like weatherproofing and moisture-wicking,” the company wrote. “That’s why we use plastics in our products.”
Recycling, though, is by no means a perfect solution. It still requires energy and has a surprisingly big carbon footprint. Some synthetics can’t, at the moment, even be recycled. If we ever plan on facing the global plastic problem, it’ll mean forcing a massive shift that will affect industries across the board. And while that’s still a long ways off, awareness and a willingness to address the issue is the first step in a very long journey… but at least it’s a step in the right direction.