Monthly Archives: May 2015

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Ethical & Environmental Considerations of Turning Recycled Plastic into Clothing

The other day I found myself having a very interesting conversation with a stranger about the ethical considerations of removing plastic from the oceans. He seemed to be under the impression that if the plastic floating in the oceans was removed, then small colonies of fish and other sea life that live in them would be jeopardized. (I was imagining an anthropomorphic Sharky and George style metropolis of threatened creatures, fighting to save their rubbish heap homes). Okay, so it’s unethical to remove plastic from the ocean because humanity cannot help meddling in the balance of life, even when it’s an effort to restore an unbalanced system? I don’t buy it, but I didn’t tell him so.

I did show interest in the radio show that he and others had told me to keep my ears open for. The CBC did a piece in their the Current show on Friday about new projects involving big brands using discarded plastics, collected from various sources, to make textiles. It’s worth listening to, to gain a perspective on the kinds of questions that are raised by this kind of practice. The issue of micro plastics, for example. Recycling bottles etc into clothing does not eliminate this problem and could even exacerbate it, because washing the clothing would indeed still make the material deteriorate and micro plastics would still find their way into waterways and then the ocean. Food for thought. So, new filters for washing machines need to be made to counter this problem… Okay. More stuff. Does more stuff solve the problem of the stuff we already have? Also a point raised. I’m by no means writing off this idea. I think it’s great that these issues are getting some big name support. But I am still skeptical.

Aren’t there more ethical considerations here? What about the use of cheap labour used to manufacture what end up being surplus clothing for us “ethically and environmentally conscious” consumers? I didn’t hear any mention of addressing these very serious concerns. The notion of designing a “closed loop” system of material use seems hollow without this component. Sure, home industry eco-arts and design practices inherently operate this way, but they get little exposure and have small customer bases. Maybe it’s just me, but I struggle with my own place in the spectrum of ethical consumer and environmental activism. My work aims to educate and encourage individuals to reconnect to the environment via material manipulation. Other projects highlight the scope of the problem through visual representation and art-making (more posts on these to come). These are not a closed-loop systems either. It’s my opinion, that if big brands and multinational clothing companies are going to undertake ethical practices, under the very public eye, then maybe a holistic approach to labour AND the environment is what’s needed? Just a thought.

To listen to the CBC segment click here.