Can plastic fashions really be eco-friendly? That's what I wondered when Fred Segal Green, a self-described upscale green lifestyle store in Santa Monica, Calif., started carrying fashions from mau, a line of “post industrial folk wear” made of Tyvek.
If you've ever used one of those Fed-Ex envelopes that feel a bit like extra-tough paper, you know what Tyvek is. Many environmentalists, in an effort to reduce the amount of disposable plastics they go through, try to avoid using these tough envelopes. However, mau's fashions could obviously be worn more than once -- and according to mau's designer Marian Schoettle, mau's fashions could be easily recycled.
However, I discovered Tyvek -- a Dupont-made plastic product -- is actually very difficult to recycle. While Tyvek’s technically a #2 plastic, it cannot be recycled at most places that take other #2 plastics. For example, MIT’s recycling program boasts that “Any plastic item with a recycling arrow (# 1-7) on the bottom is recyclable at MIT” — but then specifies that Tyvek can’t be recycled there. The same goes for Springfield, Mass, whose website explains why (PDF): “Recycling plastics can be confusing. The chasing arrows (or triangle) with a number in the center is a code that identifies the plastic resin type. This code is used by plastics manufacturers but it DOES NOT necessarily mean the plastic is recyclable.”
Like styrofoam, Tyvek’s incredibly difficult and costly to recycle — especially as there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for Tyvek’s recycled remains. In fact, it seems the only way to recycle Tyvek is by sending it directly to the one company that insists Tyvek’s easily recyclable: Dupont, the makers of Tyvek.
So if you see Tyvek wear near you, steer clear of the greenwashed materials! Environmentalists have many options to shop greener right now, so save your hard earned dollars for the really eco-stuff.
Photos of mau fashions at Fred Segal Green by Siel