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A new study reveals a shocking truth about how most of our clothing gets made — and what happens when we're done with it

98% of Americans overestimate the amount of textiles that gets recycled.

Protein Evolution textile waste

Photo Credit: iStock

When most people think of recycling plastic, they imagine soda bottles being melted down to make new items. Most aren't aware of how much plastic goes to landfills — or how many unexpected items, like clothing, are on that list. 

A recent study by Wakefield Research on behalf of Protein Evolution revealed a stunning lack of knowledge about the plastic waste generated in the U.S. and how much of it ends up in landfills.

What's happening?

According to Protein Evolution, the National Institutes of Health estimated that 70% of clothing in America contains polyester or other plastic-based materials. Bloomberg claims that 87% of clothing is eventually sent to a landfill or incinerated. 

In other words, well over half of the clothing that Americans discard becomes unrecycled plastic waste. Greenpeace has called plastic recycling a "failed concept" in America.

Yet according to Protein Evolution's survey, 98% of Americans overestimate the amount of textiles that get recycled, with 30% believing that half ends up being reused. A full 93% think there's more plastic being recycled than there actually is and 27% don't even realize there's plastic in their clothing at all.

Why does the lack of knowledge matter?

When people don't know what's in their clothing or what happens to it after they discard it, they can't make informed choices about what to buy or how to recycle their clothes. Understanding how much clothing contains plastic and the options for reusing it would give more people control over their choices.

Also, more opportunities to buy recycled clothing and more information about it would be good for the environment. 

Bloomberg estimates that the fashion industry creates 10% of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas produced worldwide, and Protein Evolution reveals that 99% of plastic is made from chemicals based on polluting fuels. More eco-friendly materials would help cool down the world and reduce toxic pollution.

What's being done?

Protein Evolution also asked if respondents would prefer to buy clothing made from recycled materials. According to the survey, 76% want businesses to use more recycled materials in clothing, 88% would choose recycled items over new ones, and 66% would actually pay more for a recycled item than one made with new materials.

Protein Evolution has demonstrated that there's a market for recycled polyester and offers the technology to process it more easily. The company hopes to create a "circular economy" for polyester — a system in which products are designed from the beginning to be recyclable, and materials are reused endlessly. 

In its statement, the company said, "Protein Evolution has the potential to deliver the first true, circular solution to the fashion industry, without asking consumers to compromise on cost."

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