Plastic, It's Fantastic!
August 10, 2020 / Maya Fawaz
After World War II, babies boomed and so did the popularity of plastic, leading to an invasion of every American household. From kitchens to children’s playrooms, plastic was advertised as an affordable way to experience a lavish lifestyle. The 1950s suburban family wouldn’t be complete without vinyl checkered floors, last night’s dinner in mom’s new Tupperware, and Barbie’s latest release sitting at the dinner table, complete with three different outfits for all her daily activities.
Decades passed, and plastic became the perfect industrial alternative. It’s easily replaceable, inexpensive to produce and, oh my goodness, it comes in so many pretty colors.
But things took a turn for the worst when plastic began weaving its way into fashion. This is where we all roll our eyes and say we’ve heard this a million times before. The enthusiastic “save the turtles!” while a metal straw is pulled from a Forever 21 tote bag.
Fast fashion is an integral part of our parasitic relationship with plastic. It’s seen in those not-so-special ‘fits that can be found everywhere on the planet without looking too hard. They’re a concoction of mixed synthetic fibers, the nylon and polyester fabrics that hang onto your skin for dear life, that rip at the hems while you dance at the club, that shed little strands of … whatever that stuff is … all over your bed, your couches, your other clothes.
I thought I had ended the eternal loop of environmental damnation by not buying those cheap polyester and nylon fabrics anymore. Here’s the harsh reality: Your thrift-filled closet isn’t going to save the world.
While thrifting is a much smarter and more “sustainable” alternative, we tend to get caught up in the abundance of options — cheap options. I’m talking about buying in bulk. I’m talking about getting 20 items for under five dollars because no one else wants it. You’re hungry for it to sit pretty in your closet until you forget about it or can’t find the perfect occasion to wear it out. We’ve all been there, the “why not?” when making a thrift purchase because it won’t break the bank, despite not being 100% sure you’ll put it to good use. We all crave the thrill of claiming the exclusive “I thrifted it!” whenever someone admires your outfit of the day.
It’s trendy to plow through endless hangers of grandmotherly smelling clothes. However, the stench from the store reminds you that it once belonged to someone else. So you throw it in the wash and hope that the water cleanses the clothes of its memories: its daily walk home from the bus stop, its long day at the office, its night out on the town.
This is where the technical part comes in. Dryers usually have a built-in filter that catches lint. You’re probably familiar with the fuzzy gray clumps you (hopefully) clean out of the filter before running your load. Washing machines, however, have a design flaw that doesn’t include the same safety net. We’ve been releasing plastic microfibers from our laundry with every cycle we wash.
Strands of synthetic fiber come off of our clothes, flowing into the water and polluting watersheds, lakes, and oceans. Plastic microfibers have infiltrated every crevice of our planet. They wash up on beaches and sink to the bottom of ocean floors. They’re in our drinking water and in our food. Projections say that there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. No matter how many pieces we rescue from dingy thrift shops, we won’t be doing the planet any good if they’re not made from the right materials.
It’s easy to feel hopeless while scrolling through Twitter feeds of Australia on fire and starved polar bears. There’s an internal battle between not doing enough and feeling that too much is being asked of us. We change our fast-food burger diets, change our cleaning products we stash under the sink, change our mode of transportation for our morning commutes, change our immigrant parents’ habits, change our roommate’s faulty recycling.
I still find it odd that my generation watched songs about our dying environment in the commercial breaks between Disney channel shows — a campaign aimed at a bunch of 9 to 11-year-olds, who probably didn’t know what a greenhouse gas was. Or what a dwindling coral reef is. Or what the hell a “microplastic” could possibly be.
Now, we’ve grown in age and anxieties. I’ve watched friends talk about not having kids out of fear: the fear of whether or not we can undo what has been done, the fear of a world of climate refugees and scarce resources. I wonder about the world the next generation will arrive into. I fear for them. But I find motivation in that fear, motivation that says push forward. Some of our parents didn’t have to think about any of this, but we can’t wait any longer. The pressure rests on the shoulders of those who grew up feeling the need to save the world but were scared and ignored by those leaving it sooner.
Keep sorting your trash and turning off the lights when you’re not home. Keep protesting at environmental rallies and voting for candidates who support structural change. Keep purchasing sustainable products and checking tags before buying clothes.
A thrift-filled closet isn’t singlehandedly going to end the cyclical damage of our environment, but it has the right idea in mind. Our money holds our voice. So shop smarter and make mindful decisions with every little thing you purchase. There is a marathon in front of us, but each step heads in the right direction. It takes a lot to save the world. Do the little things, despite feeling they’re not big enough.■
Story by: Maya Fawaz
Layout: Gia Poblete
Photographer: Rion Fletcher
Stylist: Pooja Enagala
HMUA: Alora Johnes & Jane Lee
Models: Presley Simmons & Rodrigo Colunga Pastrana