Sequined clothing is also becoming more common in some regions of the world at other times of the year – for example in South Asia, where the custom of wearing lehengalong dress, and choli, an embroidered blouse, often with sequins, is spreading.
But clothes made of sequins are an environmental hazard, experts warn, for more than one reason.
1 – The sequins fall
“I don’t know if you’ve ever worn anything with sequins, but I have and they keep falling off all the time, especially if the clothes are sequins. fast fashion or stockouts,” says Jane Patton, plastics and petrochemicals campaign manager at the Center for International Environmental Law.
“They come off when you hug someone, or get in and out of the car, or even while you’re walking or dancing. They also come off in the wash.”
The problem is the same with glitter. Both are usually made of plastic with a metallic reflective coating. Once they go down the drain, they will remain in the environment for centuries, possibly breaking up into smaller pieces over time.
“Because sequins are synthetic and made from a material that almost certainly contains toxic chemicals, wherever they end up — in the air, in the water, in the soil — it’s potentially dangerous,” says Jane Patton.
“Microplastics are a widespread and monumental problem. Because they are so small and move so easily, it is impossible to simply clean them up or contain them.”
Researchers revealed this year that microplastics have even been found in fresh Antarctic snow.
Biodegradable sequins have been invented, but they are not mass-produced yet.
2 – Party wear is the ultimate in throwaway fashion
The charity Oxfam surveyed 2,000 British women aged 18-55 in 2019, 40% of whom said they would buy a sequined garment for the holidays.
Only a quarter were sure they would wear it again – and on average, respondents said they would wear the garment five times before putting it down.
Five per cent said they would throw the clothes in the bin once they gave them up, leading Oxfam to estimate that 1.7 million pieces of festive clothing from 2019 would end up in landfills.
Once in the landfill, the plastic sequins will remain there indefinitely – but studies have also shown that liquid waste leaving landfills also contains microplastics.
One group of researchers said the study provided evidence that “the landfill is not the final dumping ground for plastics, but a potential source of microplastics”.
3 – Unsold clothes can be discarded
Viola Wohlgemuth, manager of circular economy and toxic substances at Greenpeace in Germany, says that 40% of items produced by the apparel industry are never sold. These can then be sent to other countries and discarded, she said.
Clothes decorated with sequins are inevitably among these shipments. Viola Wohlgemuth says she has seen sequins on items displayed at second-hand clothing markets and landfills in Kenya and Tanzania.
“There are no regulations for the export of textile waste. These exports are disguised as second-hand textiles and discarded in poor countries, where they end up in landfills or waterways, and pollute,” she says.
“It is not prohibited as a problematic substance like other types of waste, such as electronic waste or plastic, under the Basel Convention.”
4 – There is waste when sequins are produced
The sequins are punched into plastic sheets, and the remaining material must be discarded.
“A few years ago, some companies tried to burn the waste in their incinerators,” says Jignesh Jagani, who owns a textile factory in the Indian state of Gujarat.
“And that produced toxic fumes. The state pollution control board got wind of it and got the companies to stop doing that. Handling that waste is really a challenge.”
One of the developers of compostable cellulose sequins, Elissa Brunato, said she started by making sheets of material from which the sequins were cut. To avoid this problem, she switched to making sequins in individual molds.
5 – Sequins are attached to synthetic fibers
The problem is not just the sequins, but the synthetic materials they are usually attached to.
According to the United Nations (UN) Environment Programme, about 60% of the material used in clothing is plastic, such as polyester or acrylic, and every time clothes are washed, they shed tiny plastic microfibers.
These fibers reach the water courses and, from there, enter the food chain.
According to an estimate by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, synthetic fabrics are responsible for 35% of microfibers released into the oceans.
George Harding of the Changing Markets Foundation, which aims to tackle sustainability issues using the power of the market, says the fashion industry’s use of sequins and plastic fibers (derived from oil or gas) also demonstrates a “deeply rooted dependence on the industry from fossil fuels to raw materials”.
The forecast, according to him, is that clothing production will almost double by 2030 compared to 2015 levels.
“(Then) the problem will likely only get worse without significant interventions.”
This text was originally published here.
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