Micro-Plastics & Jeans

Everyone loves a good pair of jeans.

In 2013, Levi’s created their “Waste Less” collection. In their collection, 20% of the jeans are comprised of recycled water bottles and post-consumer plastic. They state that each pair of jeans, use an average of three to eight plastic water bottles. Since their launch, the company has used 11.9 million recycled bottles for various products.

Levi Strauss & Co. is an environmental leader in the clothing industry. They were committed to both (1) reducing their companies water footprint due to growing water constraints for cotton production, and (2) decreasing their role in the buildup of non-biodegradable plastics.

Despite recycling infrastructure that exists in order to facilitate the recycling of these bottles, according to the Container Recycling Institute, 86% of plastic water bottles used in the US become garbage that ends up in landfills throughout the country. Considering that approximately 60 million plastic water bottles are used every day in the US, we can assume that nearly 18,834,000,000 end up in the landfill each year. Each bottle can take up to 700 years to decompose.

Hannah Ellsbury at Ban The Bottle

Yesterday, I went shopping at Marshall’s and I was excited to make a green consumer choice. With a little research, I was able to help prevent excess plastic bottles from ending up in our landfills. This isn’t to say that the system is perfect — but it is a step in the right direction.

In fact, Madewell closes the jean recycling loop with their Blue Jeans Go Green project. Here, they collect old denim donations and produce housing insulation. Between these two companies, buying denim made out of water bottles that will later be turned into housing insulation sounds perfect.

However, if the denim is no longer 100% cotton then it isn’t biodegradable or benign to our waters. This denim like other synthetic fabrics — such as nylon, polyester, and spandex — contain micro-plastics. When we wash our clothes, these plastics leak into our water systems. These micro-plastics are too small for standard filtration systems because they can be as tiny as 5 millimeters in length. Also, if they leak into our water systems, they also leak into our oceans when we wash our clothes.

The UN News reports that there are as many as 51 trillion micro-plastic particles that litter our oceans. To put that in perspective, that is 500 times all the stars in our galaxy, but as micro-plastics in the sea. So, maybe the answer is not recycling, but reducing and eliminating unnecessary use of plastic, especially water bottles.