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How The Fashion Retail Industry Is Working Towards Sustainable Packaging

There is no getting around it: the fashion industry is inundated with plastic, and the single-use polybag plays a significant role in polluting the environment.

On International Plastic Bag Free Day (July 3), we tell you why the fashion retail industry’s dependence on plastic is deeply concerning and has significant consequences for the environment.

Annually, the industry consumes:

  • 342 million barrels of petroleum to produce synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, and acrylic.
  • This accounts for approximately 1.35% of global oil consumption.

This addiction to plastic-based materials has far-reaching implications for the health of our planet.

Approximately 180 billion bags, varying in size from large to small, are utilized by the apparel supply chain annually to safeguard inventory in warehouses and distribution centers, as well as to secure online orders during their extensive journeys via trucks, ships, or planes to customers’ doorsteps. These bags, crafted from low-density polyethylene, are known for their thinness, lightweight nature, and protective properties.

Sustainable Packaging Alternatives

While it’s widely acknowledged that plastic packaging is detrimental to the environment, it may not be enough to completely deter us from online shopping. In our fast-paced modern lives, the convenience of ordering clothes online is hard to resist. However, it’s crucial to explore alternatives to plastic packaging.

Fortunately, sustainable packaging options for clothing are emerging and gaining popularity. Here are some of the most widely embraced alternatives:

  • Seed paper – Crafted from biodegradable materials, this innovative packaging solution incorporates embedded seeds, allowing it to serve a dual purpose. Once you have finished using the packaging, you can simply leave it outdoors and plant it in the ground, enabling the growth of plants or flowers.
  • Cassava – Derived mainly from the starch of the cassava root, cassava packaging is experiencing a steady rise in popularity. This compostable packaging alternative serves as a viable option to replace plastic wrapping, offering numerous benefits akin to those provided by plastic packaging.
  • Recycled plastic- Recycled plastic packaging can be manufactured using a wide range of plastic waste materials. This includes various forms of plastic, such as discarded plastic bottles and previously utilized plastic packaging. The versatility of recycled plastic allows for the transformation of different types of plastic waste into new packaging products.

A Small Step, A Big Change

Transitioning away from the use of plastic in fashion packaging is a gradual process that requires careful consideration for the environment. Although it cannot be accomplished overnight, it is imperative to take the first steps towards change. Many fashion brands have recognized this need and have already initiated the shift towards alternative packaging materials.

Nike Inc. – Nike Incorporated (NIKE Inc.), oen of the the world’s largest apparel companies, prioritizes sustainability through its ‘Move to Zero‘ initiative, and this commitment extends to its packaging practices. In 2022, Nike introduced the innovative ‘Nike One Box’ concept, which revolutionizes the shipping of shoes by eliminating the need for an outer box. This logo-free design eliminates unnecessary packaging and is estimated to reduce packaging waste by 51% for individual online orders compared to traditional packaging methods.

In the FY21 Nike Inc’s impact report, the company proudly announced a 4% reduction in waste from 2020, indicating significant progress towards its goal of achieving a 10% reduction by 2025. The report also highlighted an increase in the amount of packaging waste that was successfully recycled, reflecting Nike’s ongoing commitment to responsible waste management and recycling practices.

Adidas– Adidas, a sports brand headquartered in Germany, made a significant sustainability commitment in 2020. The company pledged to exclusively use recycled polyester in all its products and applications starting from 2024. In line with this commitment, Adidas announced its plans to produce up to 20 million pairs of shoes using plastic waste.

Environmental agency, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED), reports that almost two-thirds of global plastic waste originates from plastics with lifetimes under five years, with packaging accounting for 40% of that waste. Adidas has taken further steps towards sustainability by ensuring that its shoe boxes are made from 95% recycled content. Additionally, in 2016, the company eliminated the use of plastic bags in its stores, showcasing its dedication to reducing plastic waste.

Inditex- Inditex, a company dedicated to environmental sustainability, has been actively engaged in driving change and promoting responsible practices. As early as 2001, Inditex became a member of the UN Global Compact, demonstrating its commitment to global sustainability goals. With a strong focus on minimizing its impact on the planet, the company continuously evaluates its stores and distribution chain to identify opportunities for reducing environmental harm.

To address the issue of single-use plastics, Inditex has set a clear target to eliminate their use by 2023. Instead, the company aims to promote the adoption of reusable bags, encouraging customers to opt for more sustainable alternatives. Additionally, Inditex has implemented initiatives within its stores to collect hangers and tags, aiming to reuse or repurpose them, reducing waste and promoting circularity in their operations. Through these efforts, Inditex strives to create a more sustainable and responsible retail industry.

H&M-  The role of packaging in ensuring the safe delivery of products to consumers is crucial, but Swedish fashion retailer H&M also recognizes the importance of packaging that minimizes harm to the environment. H&M is actively striving to transform its packaging practices to align with the principles of a circular economy.

In December 2020, H&M introduced a new packaging format across multiple brands to tackle the issue of packaging waste and prevent it from becoming consumer waste. As part of this initiative, the company replaced outer plastic packaging with a reusable and recyclable paper alternative. This transition reflects H&M’s commitment to reducing its environmental footprint and promoting sustainable packaging solutions. By making such changes, H&M aims to contribute to the creation of a more circular and eco-friendly fashion retail industry.


Plastic pollution is undoubtedly one of the most pressing challenges of our time. In response, the sustainable fashion retail industry has emerged as a frontrunner in seeking viable solutions to address this issue.

Numerous forward-thinking brands are actively exploring sustainable packaging options for clothing. These brands are embracing innovative and environmentally-friendly solutions that deliver the benefits of conventional packaging while minimizing their ecological impact. It is evident that sustainable packaging for clothes plays a crucial role in shaping a sustainable future for the fashion industry.

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