Packaging and sustainability in the fashion business

Not just clothes. The several sides of sustainability

Packaging generates 217kg of waste per capita every year in Italy (Eurostat data referring to 2017), over three times the average weight of an adult Italian. Italy ranks third for the volume of waste generated by packaging in Europe, following Germany (227kg per capita) and Luxembourg, the absolute record holder with 231kg ​​per capita.


Three different packaging types are used in the fashion business,  packaging to the consumer, packaging for B2B logistics, and what we could define as accessory packaging.


Packaging to consumers includes paper, cardboard, or plastic boxes; shopping-bags in plastic, canvas, or paper; hangers, often in plastic, metal, or other materials; ribbons, paper tissues, fabric flannels for bags and shoes, in some case clothes cover. Packaging for logistics includes cardboard hangers, wooden pallets, and, particularly important, polybag clothes covers. We define accessories as mainly labels, tags, and gadgets for the customer, which strictly speaking do not constitute packaging, but "travel" with it, and, above all, end up in the waste with the packaging. The range of materials is broad, but the possibilities for reducing packaging's environmental impact are also broad.


Most of the paper, cardboard, and wood are now FSC or PEFC certified and originate from forests managed responsibly. However, much can be done, such as avoiding synthetic coatings of paper that prevent recycling.


For other materials, however, we are still at the beginning of a journey. An interesting case is that of polybags, the transparent polyethylene garment covers - plastic, therefore - a ubiquitous presence in the fashion business, which clothing manufacturers use to protect clothes in all transports, up to the store door. It is a material that truly unites almost every type of brand, from luxury to sportswear and fast fashion. Around 200 billion polybags are consumed every year globally.


Polybags can not easily cut out of business. They are not superfluous. They are indeed essential to protect garments and ensure their integrity and durability in the complex fashion supply chain. On the other hand, they have a significant feature: they are easily recyclable.  If recycled, they can rebirth again as new quality polybags. Obviously, under some conditions. The first is purely logistical: brands and stores must effectively collect the polybags disposed of and hand them over to qualified recyclers. The second is that polyethylene's recyclability is not compromised by contamination the use of adhesives or labels that cannot be easily separated from the polyethylene.


A project to improve the recyclability of polybags was launched this year by Fashion for Good in collaboration with Adidas, C&A, Kering, Otto Group and PVH Corp.