Recycling company First Mile has joined forces with a global sustainable fashion innovation platform, Fashion for Good, in a new pilot scheme that aims to test a key part of the infrastructure of a potential circular system to tackle the issue of plastic polybag waste in the fashion industry.

Initiated by Fashion for Good, the Plastics Packaging Project, of which the Polybag Collection Scheme Pilot is a part, aims to identify and scale potential solutions to reduce the impact and use of plastic packaging in the industry. The pilot scheme, which is supported by Fashion for Good corporate partners adidas, Kering, PVH Corp. and Stella McCartney, will see First Mile collecting and recycling plastic polybags from retail stores located in central London. These polybags are commonly used within the fashion industry to pack, transport and store garments before they are displayed in-store.

The polybags will be transformed into new plastic film products, closing the loop and dramatically reducing the amount of retail plastic waste that is simply thrown away. At the end of the three-month pilot, Fashion for Good will collate and analyse data on the viability of separate polybag collection for brands, and First Mile will report on the recycling outcomes.

Today, it is estimated that 180 billion polybags are produced globally every year. Traditionally, First Mile says, the recycling of plastic film - from which polybags are made - poses a challenge due to the wide variety of different types and colours of film ultimately ‘downgrading’ the material into lower-value products during its processing. In contrast, the majority of fashion polybags are made from clear low-density polyethylene (LDPE) film, which the company says offers the potential of a clean and pure waste stream that can be transformed into high-quality clear film products again.

First Mile founder and CEO, Bruce Bratley, says: “The spotlight has been well and truly focused on the sustainability of the fashion industry in recent months, and this is an area where recycling can make a massive difference. There’s an incredible amount of plastic polybag packaging waste that isn’t currently recycled and will often end up in landfill or being incinerated. As we all strive towards achieving an efficient circular economy, maximising the recycling of these polybags is a hugely positive move.”

Katrin Ley, Managing Director at Fashion for Good, comments: “The fashion industry needs to tackle polybag packaging waste and work together to make a closed-loop system a reality. This involves the sector committing to make current polybags more recyclable, supporting innovation in recycling, but crucially, focusing on systems for the collection of polybags at all places that polybag waste is generated. We look forward to seeing the results of this part of the Plastics Project with First Mile.”