A retail expert has called for fashion brands to face up to the problems with polythene mailing bags after a recent study from the company, Delta Global found that out of 375 UK councils, a shocking 88% of them do not accept the material in curb side recyclable pick up.
“As the war on plastic continues, fashion retailers must take greater accountability for their contribution to the problem, particularly when it comes to their packaging for online orders,” urges Robert Lockyer, CEO of Delta Global, a sustainable packaging provider for luxury fashion retailers.
“Businesses across every sector have a role to play in the fight against climate change. In fashion, packaging is a significant contributing factor that many brands are still not taking as seriously as they should.”
For physical retail, the UK government has recently announced plans to increase the single-use carrier bag charge to 10p, and extended enforcement to all retailers, rather than just those of a certain size.
Now, while consumers bear the brunt of the charge, retailers are reminded of the importance of investing in a sustainable substitute in order to continue delivering customer satisfaction.
But unfortunately, the problem transcends the physical retail environment.
“As online shopping becomes the preferred method for more and more customers, a solution to the problem and fashion’s contribution to it, will require brands to take a wider look at their operations, taking into consideration the online delivery channel, too,” explains Robert.
“The problem we currently face is brands turning a blind eye to the realities of polythene mailing bags that claim to be recyclable. Despite the claims, it is in fact incredibly difficult to dispose of the material sustainably.”
Parcel delivery service provider, DPD admit to using 36 million plastic bags a year, offering a resolution in that they are made from 80% reclaimed material and are 100% recyclable. However, they also admit that globally, only 1 in 200 bags are actually recycled – that’s less than 1%.
If this wasn’t alarming enough, in a recent study conducted by Delta Global themselves, a further failing of these types of claims has been uncovered.
Robert explains: “We found that polythene is not permitted as recyclable plastic waste by 88% of local councils. But what’s worse, of the few that do accept it, there are restrictions on colours and material blends, making it that much harder to dispose of the bags responsibly.”
“The retailers’ shortcomings become the consumer’s problem as they are faced with the challenge of finding a way to recycle the bags, as curb side pick-up is not an option. And, with many consumers still unaware of this, the problem is just passed along the packaging’s lifecycle and, ultimately, ending up in landfill or the ocean.”
Highlighting just how urgently this needs to be tackled, experts are now warning that the weight of plastic in the ocean will surpass the weight of fish by 2050.
“The logical solution here would be to nip the issue in the bud with the retailer’s supply chain,” he suggests.
“For those that have attempted to tackle the problem, the focus has been on finding a biodegradable alternative. For products that have a strict functionality criterion, such as being durable and preservative, we can see why this is important. But fashion is not one of them.”
Having turned their focus to creating recyclable paper mailing bags and cardboard boxes, Robert explains that “without unnecessary additional elements and materials, these are perfectly suitable substitutes.”
So, why aren’t more brands using them?
Well, the argument always turns to the benefits polythene bags offer, such as lower costs, greater accessibility and being weather-proof. But that’s not to say eco-friendly alternatives can’t be all of these things and more.
“We have worked with various luxury fashion brands to create innovative packaging solutions that are not only sustainable but also add value to both the brand and its consumer offering. For instance, we made sure MATCHESFASHION’s iconic marble boxes were entirely recyclable with an innovative magnet removing mechanism and eco-friendly water-proof coating, as well as being high quality and durable, so consumers can reuse them too.
“We are also developing sustainable pouches for another brand, whereby the fastening mechanism can be removed and reused as a hair band.
“It’s all about being creative and innovative in your approach. Packaging should no longer be considered a by-product of your offering but rather a vital component of the overall experience of a purchase or receiving a package.
“This is particularly important in the current climate, where consumer sentiments are heightened and shopping behaviours are changing due to COVID-19 risks. Investing in packaging that aids in the fight in both the health and environmental crises is guaranteed to serve businesses well.
“Ultimately, brands assuring us that they are doing their bit to combat plastic pollution but are still using polythene packaging, or a mailing service that does, are failing, regardless of any recyclability claims.”
Robert urges, “it’s time to stop pretending you’re doing the right thing and actually do it.”