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Sustainable packaging solutions for the fashion industry

The packaging industry accounts for one of the largest volumes of virgin paper and plastic in the world. Studies suggest that 50% of the paper and 40% of the plastic produced each year is used for packaging. However, only 36% of municipal solid waste comes from packaging from all industries.

The fashion industry has grown steadily over the past decade and the fashion industry is currently the largest segment of the e-commerce market. The value of this industry is over $520 billion per year. It is expected to grow by nearly 10% per year to reach over $1 trillion by 2025 (Holding, 2019).

Few studies have been conducted to date to provide a detailed assessment of the environmental effects of compostable packaging. Existing research shows that more emphasis has been placed on those in the business-to-business (B2B) packaging industry, demonstrating the need for business-to-business (B2C) study. Reusable packaging is not an immediate solution to all of today’s packaging challenges (Nelson, 2020).

Retail outlets using cartons or corrugated boxes often have difficulty finalizing the appropriate size for shipping. These boxes increase the amount of waste to be disposed of. In addition, more and more customers are dissatisfied with the amount of packaging to be thrown away with their household waste. About 30% of the CO2 emissions generated by e-commerce come from the packaging used for transport. Traditional single-use packaging used in transport is produced, used and then disposed of. Larger pieces of plastic packaging are incinerated or exported to other countries where proper disposal is difficult.

Generally, the protective aspects of the polythene bag are the most critical. Protection against dirt, dust and moisture is an essential aspect. According to a 2018 survey, price sensitivity is also one of the main factors. This implies that most brands do not want to pay more for their packaging. Transparency, or the ability to see the garment and its hang tags, was considered very to somewhat crucial by most companies. However, the ability to store clothes for an extended period of time was generally considered only somewhat to slightly important. Few ranked this as a top priority over organizational purpose and resistance to tearing and stretching forces. The one option that was not important to most companies was the requirement to meet specifications from a logistics or retail partner – although a handful described this as very important to somewhat important (Hiatt, 2018).

Nowadays, images of plastic contaminating the marine environment and causing damage to flora, fauna and the ecosphere are at the center of public attention. Since each garment is shipped in a poly bag, more than 150 billion poly bags could be produced each year. Customers and staff complain about the amount of plastic packaging that often accompanies clothing, especially with retail e-commerce customers, where packaging is one of the first things encountered.

Each of the issues mentioned above is important for the definition of compostability. However, these alone are not enough. To be said to be compostable, a material must disintegrate during the composting cycle and must not cause any problems to the process, the end product or the compost (Degli-Innocenti, 2002). It is essential to understand that it is not enough to be biodegradable.

Composting is a beneficial waste management system, mainly where landfills are limited and that too in more densely populated places. The main mechanism of polylactic acid (PLA) degradation is hydrolysis, catalyzed by temperature, followed by bacterial attack on the fragmented residues. During composting, the moisture and heat from the compost pile attacks the PLA polymer chains, pulling them apart and creating smaller polymer fragments and lactic acid. The microorganisms in the compost heaps then consume these produced polymers and acids to produce energy. This process involves bacteria and fungi for the degradation of PLA. The end result produces carbon dioxide, water and some humus (DW Farrington, 2008).

Single-use culture has dramatically increased the amount of packaging waste a person creates daily, weekly, monthly and annually. Plastic, one of the most commonly used packaging materials in all industries, has a huge detrimental effect on the environment. It pollutes natural landscapes and breaks down into microplastics that eventually end up in the oceans. It also affects marine biodiversity.

More and more companies, organizations and academies are trying to find renewable and more sustainable substitutes. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition has proposed a definition of sustainable packaging (Holding, 2019). According to this definition, the characteristics of sustainable packaging are represented in the figure below.

Brands are calling for alternatives because of this pressure. But there is a lack of information available about the choices that can be made and the actions that can be taken. Several brands, such as H&M, Stella McCartney and Bestseller, have pledged to switch from all plastic packaging to reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging. This commitment matches those set out in the UK Plastics Pact. The UK Plastic Pact encourages its signatories to meet the targets by 2025. Signatories are also expected to reduce single-use plastic packaging, recycle or compost 70% of all plastic packaging and include an average of 30% recycled content in all. Plastic wrap.

Nowadays, the products we use in our daily life have a concise shelf life. However, the effects of these products are long lasting. It is essential to increase the circularity of materials. This will reduce the amount of single-use packaging.

Good packaging has specific criteria to meet. It should suffice for the purpose, protect content, optimize resources and have a minimal carbon footprint. These can only be achieved through optimal design. User-friendliness and material cycle efficiency are also crucial for environmentally friendly packaging (Tiuttu, 2020).

However, despite its universality and apparent simplicity, it is quite a complex system to maintain. Building a fully circular system for polythene bags, or any material including alternatives to plastic, where everything is collected, reclaimed, and turned into something useful, is an ideal to strive for. But it is an arduous task that one can only hope to accomplish.

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