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Recycled plastic is everywhere—and it’s harming the planet

I’m sorry to bum you out, but, yes, even your recycled plastic puffer is harming the planet. Over the past few years, recycled plastic has started showing up everywhere, from sneakers to garden furniture to kitchenware to clothing, as companies learned to reuse plastic from discarded water bottles. And it’s true that recycled plastic is better than new, petroleum-based plastic. But here’s the thing: Every time you wash or wear that puffer, microscopic particles of plastic are released into the water stream, poisoning fish—and when you finally throw it out, it will not biodegrade.

Pangaia, a two-year-old fashion brand focused on material innovation, is on a mission to find an alternative to recycled plastic. For decades, fashion brands have relied on plastic because it is cheap and easy to manufacture. But they are increasingly aware that they are drowning the world in plastic: It’s clogging up our landfills and filling up our oceans at a rate of a truckload a minute.

Today, Pangaia announces a partnership with tech startup Kintra which has invented a fabric that mimics the stretch, durability, and moisture-wicking properties of synthetics but is made of renewable materials and can be composted. So in theory, when you’re done with your parka, you can stick it in your compost bin and then use it to fertilize your flowers. The technology is still emerging and it’s unclear exactly how the fabric will perform, but it’s an encouraging sign that tech solutions might bridge the gap between the convenience of plastic and the environmental benefits of a biodegradable material.


Consumer goods have a serious problem with plastic. When the material was first widely used in the 1950s, designers saw it as a cheap, magical substance that could morph into whatever they wanted. Companies across the spectrum—from furniture makers to toy brands to food packaging manufacturers—have relied heavily on it since.

The fashion industry has been one of the biggest consumers of plastic. Nylon was first developed in the 1930s, but nearly a century later, 60% of the 100 billion garments churned out by the industry annually are made from synthetic plastic fibers, such as nylon, polyester, and spandex.

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