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Why it’s so hard to eliminate plastic from the supply chain

It’s really hard to create buttons, sneaker soles, spandex, and zipper teeth without virgin plastic. Just ask Everlane.

In 2018, the fashion label made a radical commitment to eliminate all virgin plastic from its supply chain by the end of 2021. As Everlane approaches the deadline, the brand has cut out 90% of virgin plastic, but the remaining 10% is proving tricky, as global recycling and manufacturing systems are not set up to address specialized objects (such as zipper teeth).

THE PLASTIC PROBLEM

There is good reason for Everlane to focus on that last 10%. Creating plastic from oil generates carbon emissions, which accelerates climate change. Once the material is made, it does not biodegrade, so it stays in our landfills and oceans for hundreds of years, breaking into microscopic fragments that end up in our food chain. While consumers tend to be aware of the plastic in their straws, food packaging, or grocery bags, many are not aware that much of their closet is also made up of plastic, since synthetic materials, such as spandex and polyester, are plastic. “We wanted to draw attention to fashion’s plastic problem,” says Michael Preysman, Everlane’s CEO. “But we also wanted to see if it was possible to cut out new plastic from our supply chain, relying instead on the abundance of plastic that already exists on the planet.”

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