Plastics in our clothes is becoming a new challenge for waste managers, say speakers at CSE’s Anil Agarwal Dialogue

  • Over 60 per cent of new fabrics made up of plastics – ending up in landfills, do not degrade 

The State of India’s Environment 2024 report is available on sale click here 

To access the proceedings and presentations of Day 1 of AAD click here       

Nimli (near Alwar), March 1, 2024: Over 60 per cent of new fabrics today are made up of plastics. Where do these ‘new’ plastic wastes end up eventually? In our landfills -- textile waste makes up the third largest waste type in landfills, offering another gargantuan new challenge for the management of solid waste in our cities. 

This was one of the subjects of discussion at the ongoing Anil Agarwal Dialogue here, an annual conclave of environment-development journalists attended by over 100 media persons and subject experts from across the country. The Dialogue is organised every year by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). 

The 2024 State of India’s Environment report was released at the Dialogue on its opening day (February 28). 

Says Atin Biswas, programme director, solid waste management and circular economy unit, CSE: “Perhaps the most important reason for the popularity of plastic is that garments made from synthetic fibres -- polyester, acrylic, nylon etc -- are substantially cheaper than natural fabrics. While on the face of it, clothes made of plastics appear harmless, their infiltration into the textile industry is a cause for concern. These synthetic fabrics have significant environmental impact during production, use and disposal.” 

Plastic fibres have high carbon footprint as they are mostly derived from fossil fuels. The apparels industry is responsible for 10 per cent of the global carbon dioxide output—more than international flights and shipping combined. At its current pace, the industry’s carbon emissions will increase by over 50 per cent by 2030. The World Resources Institute says polyester production for tex­tiles released about 706 billion kg of green­house gases in 2015, the equivalent of 185 coal-fired power plants’ annual emis­sions. 

The sector is also responsible for one-fifth of the 300 million tonne of plastic produced globally each year, as per the World Bank. Today, synthetic fibre accounts for 69 per cent of all fibre production in the world.The global production of polyester, the most used plastic fibre, has increased by nearly 900 per cent between 1980 and 2014. 

Plastic fibres are single-handedly responsible for fuelling “fast fashion”, a trend in which consumers buy and dump clothes at a dizzying rate. Experts say that high-end brands, not consumers, are responsible for the “make-take-dispose” business model – a model that relies on driving increased con­sumption of new products. 

Says Siddharth G Singh, programme manager in the same team in CSE: “This has emerged as a formidable new challenge for the world in its struggle to contain and manage plastic waste. As these fabrics are made from oil-based plastic, they donot biodegrade like natural fibres do; they can remain in the environment, in our landfills, for several decades.” 

Synthetic textiles also shed tiny pieces of plastic with every wash and wear. These micro plastic scan severely pollute the oceans, freshwater and land and pose a danger to animals that consume them, inhibiting their growth and reproduction. Recent research suggests that it can also adversely affect human health, though conclusive links have yet to be established. 

Says Singh: “Industry experts feel that polyester is here to stay as natural fabrics cannot meet the ever-rising demand for textiles. They, however, warn that the current model is not sustainable. India needs to recognise polyester textile waste as plastic. This is crucial as the country currently has strong legislation to handle plastic waste but nothing on textile waste, which is broadly covered under the Municipal Solid Waste Rules, 2016.” 

The first step is to make the fashion industry accountable.One of the ways to address the problem is by introducing extended producers’ re­sponsibility (EPR) for polyester to put the onus on the brand owners responsible. 

Says Singh: “In India, EPRs ex­ist for plastics, tyre, battery and e-waste sectors, where industry players have spe­cific targets to collect and recycle waste. Besides cleaner production, it will also improve the collection rate of textile waste before it reaches the landfill.” 

For details, interviews etc, please contact: Souparno Banerjee, 9910864339,