New report by Aquapak highlights slow progress of UK fashion industry’s move away from single use plastic

Aquapak, a speciality polymers business, has released its “Reality of Fashion” report, which provides a progress update on Fashion for Good’s “Polybags in the fashion industry: evaluating the options”, which was published two years ago. Its new research* also shows consumer desire for more environmentally friendly mailer bags when purchasing fashion items.

Aquapak’s report highlights that despite increasing pressure for alternative packaging solutions to single-use plastic as part of a green revolution, progress since 2019 has been slow.  The majority of garment and accessory bags are still made from Low Density Polyethylene (LPDE), with billions used every year, and the recycling rate remains stubbornly low.  Just 29% of recycling capacity across Europe can recycle LDPE with 15% of this in Germany, 14% in Italy and 13% Spain*.  According to The UK Plastics Pact, in the UK, just 6% of all flexible plastic packaging is recycled, this includes Polypropylene, PET and LDPE.

Aquapak has also conducted new research with UK consumers that supports the need to move away from single-use plastic packaging for fashion items such as clothes, sunglasses and accessories. Over half (52%) said that poor packaging recyclability puts them off buying items online or by mail order altogether.  It also highlights consumers’ concerns about the environmental harm caused by plastic, with 58% of consumers saying it is plastic breaking down to microplastics in the ocean and harming wildlife, which concerns them the most. This is followed by plastics going to landfill (24%) and being incinerated and causing more pollution (12%).  All points raised in the original Fashion for Good report.

Despite the slow shift towards more sustainable forms of packaging, innovation has delivered solutions that are now readily available, including starch based compostables and new-generation plastics such as Hydropol, a new speciality material that is an enabling technology for the circular economy based on PVA.  Hydropol enables paper-based packaging to be produced with all of the functionality of LDPE, but is fully recyclable and biodegradable without producing harmful microplastics, which are so damaging to the environment.  The technology is already gaining interest in the food service sector, with the award-winning Flexi-Kraft Takeaway Bag produced by Euro Packaging.

Some fashion brands such as Finisterre are embracing change and have already committed to adding to their sustainable packaging with a new innovative paper mailing bag concept that combines enhanced end-user functionality with recyclability through its use of Hydropol.  However, more need to follow suit to have the impact that consumers demand.

Mark Lapping, CEO of Aquapak, said: ‘The reality is that there are a range of packaging alternatives available, which offer more favourable end-of-life options in terms of recycling and biodegradability.

Although materials made with Hydropol are fully recyclable – indeed, in combination with paper, it actually enhances the recovery of paper fibres in the recycling process – we still have to work with the existing recycling infrastructure that has yet to fully adjust to the circular economy.

‘The more brands collaborate and adopt new packaging technologies such as Hydropol, increasing the volume of PVA material, so will the viability of recycling around the world, closing the loop and making the circular economy a reality.  There is a huge opportunity for fashion industry brands to make a positive impact right now by switching to available alternative packaging solutions – the more that is done, the quicker the pace of change. For good.’

An overview of traditional mailing bags vs paper-lined alternatives

Whilst traditional mailing bags provide protection, being made from PE are limited in reuse and often recycling, which is not always available. Paper is seen as more environmentally friendly by consumers thanks to its kerb-side recyclability. Compostables (assuming this option is chosen by the end user) offer lower environmental impact but reduced functionality. New-gen materials such as Hydropol when combined with paper retain the properties needed to protect items, whilst giving multiple end of life options, removing the reliance on end-users to leave no trace on the environment.

See comparison table below:

  Kraft paper bag Paper envelope Paper e-commerce mailer Padded ‘jiffy bag’ FSC Card Mailer PE Mailing bag Compostable mailer
Material Kraft paper laminated with Hydropol Paper Kraft paper Paper padded with shredded recyclable paper Card PE Sugar cane and potato starch
Size mm 380 x 250 320 x 230 425 x 255 270 x 200 350 x 250 650 x 450 350 x 250
Bag weight (g) 25 14 48 54 TBC 15 10
Material spec 40 gsm paper / 25 mu Hydropol 130 gsm paper 120 gsm 250 gsm 650 gsm 50 mu 40 mu
Puncture resistance (kg/f) 2.70 0.80 2.27 3.29 5.61 1.12 2.70
Seal strength (N) 71 28 159 69 120 18 9
Kerbside recyclable x x
End-of-life Options Recyclable

Biodegradable

Recyclable

Biodegradable

Recyclable

Biodegradable

Recyclable

Biodegradable

Recyclable

Biodegradable

Landfill or recycled at stores Compostable

biodegradable

Kraft lined with Hydropol is up to 20% stronger and 50% lighter than alternative paper e-commerce mailers

To read the full report, visit The-Reality-of-Fashion Aquapak-Polymers March-2022.pdf.

*Research conducted by Consumer Intelligence with 1022 UK consumers in January 2022

Image credit: Hannah Morgan / Unsplash