We've been paying closer attention to our clothes' environmental impact: practicing sustainable habits by repurposing garments, choosing recycled or eco-friendly materials, and, ultimately, trying to buy less. But, what we don't consider often enough is the waste that accompanies every purchase we make. As online shopping has evolved from a convenience into a necessity over the past few months, packaging waste has significantly proliferated in tandem. In addition to the boxes, packing material, and polyethylene bags protecting shipments that arrive safely at our doorsteps, there’s also something called "hidden plastic,” explains Rachel Lincoln (Director of Sustainability at eco-friendly lifestyle brand Prana). This includes a host of minuscule throwaway items: hang tags, plastic swift tags, moisture-reducing paper plus plastic liners, silica packets, and teensy-weensy baggies to hold extra buttons, to name just a few. “There's so much hidden waste in your products that you just don’t think about,” says Lincoln — which is exactly why Prana launched the Responsible Packaging Movement.
We want to create strong, game-changing goals together — reduction or elimination of plastic in our packaging.
RACHEL LINCOLN, PRANA'S DIRECTOR OF SUSTAINABILITY
The California-based lifestyle imprint is approaching its third decade of business as an eco-forward supplier of clothing and activewear for men and women — and they’ve been actively working to reduce waste in their supply chain for years. Now, with the Responsible Packaging Movement, they’ve partnered up with fellow sustainable-fashion bigwigs like Mara Hoffman, Outerknown, and Toad&Co; with additional support from environmental watchdogs 5 Gyres and Canopy. The RPM will offer resources, best-practice guides, and education to any brand that is willing to pledge accountability to reducing packaging waste. “We want to create strong, game-changing goals together — reduction or elimination of plastic in our packaging,” says Lincoln. The education and stewardship offered to RPM members will continue on a regular basis for at least five years, she explains — “We know that change takes time. Prana’s goal is that by 2021, all of our product will be shipped plastic-free.”
For Prana, the journey started when a manager at the brand’s flagship location in Boulder, CO took a photo of a stockroom closet in the basement of the store. It depicted what Lincoln describes as “10 lawn-size trash bags full of plastic” — a single day’s worth of discarded packaging from the day’s inventory shipment. (“You get shipments every couple of days,” Lincoln explains.) It was a wake-up call for the eco-minded brand. Volunteers from across the company came together and engineered a proprietary method of “roll packing” — a folding technique that’s individually tailored to each garment, offering protection while eliminating the need for the so-called “poly bags” that wrap individual items in wholesale and retail shipments.
Reducing the impact globally is not going to happen from one company doing it. The more people we have doing it, the more impact we can have on our environment, positively. The more the merrier.
RACHEL LINCOLN, Prana's DIRECTOR OF SUSTAINABILITY
The catalyst for the Responsible Packaging Movement, says Lincoln, was the need to pool resources and information to effect change on an industry-wide scale. “There’s no competition in the sustainability arena — we’re all just there to do better,” she said, “so why don’t we share what we know?” They gathered the group of brands that would eventually form the movement based on their existing close relationships: “This is just a really natural extension of what we were doing behind the scenes,” Lincoln explains. “Reducing the impact globally is not going to happen from one company doing it. The more people we have doing it, the more impact we can have on our environment, positively. The more the merrier.”
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