The plastic bag problem for garment retailers.


Shirtworks has been leading the way in offering ethically accredited garments and printing /embroidery processes now for the last 8 years in the UK and Europe but even we are having serious problems trying to find a solution to the problem of plastic packaging, especially for garment orders which need to be shipped and stored for retail.

The standard packaging for t-shirts that need to be stored and retailed via mail order shipping from a central location is a clear polypropylene (PP) bag.

They have been a staple solution for the last 30 years and in every aspect other than environmental, they are perfect.

The advantages of this material are numerous and 45 million metric tons of it are produced each year to be used in a massive number of applications that include piping, gears, rope, electrical insulation and packaging to name a few.

The global demand for PP is set to grow to 62 million metric tons by 2020 and this is the most frightening figure of all when you consider that we all now know how toxic this material is to our existence on this planet.

30% of all PP produced each year is used for packaging.

You get the jist…

The problem with PP is that although it can claim to be recyclable, this rarely actually happens.

PP can be heated to 130 degrees Celsius to turn back into a liquid to then be reused but the cost of recycling PP is too high for anyone to consider as viable….and when was the last time you unwrapped your packaged product and put the PP in the recycling bin anyway?

No-one ever does and so it ends up in landfill or in the wider environment to blight and damage and pollutes. Especially in developing countries who lack any type of recycling infrastructure or well-managed landfill sites. Unfortunately, these countries are in the Asian sub-continent and in East Asia where over half the world’s population live and where those countries have a coastline. 

The alternatives

Unfortunately, the alternatives fall far short of offering any hope.

Shirtworks has looked at 2 possible solutions and in the interest of education even though we cannot advocate these as viable, it is worth explaining them. 


Shirtworks first looked at these products over 18 months ago back in 2017 and we were really excited. On the face of it, a bag that is made of a vegetable starch and will decompose like any food material if left in the environment seemed like a perfect dream.

But then you look at the details and consider the ‘other’ impacts that such a product will have.

At the moment you can import bags from Indonesia that are made of a plant called cassava. It will biodegrade completely in about 60 days of composting and can be used for the packaging of dry goods.

And in those words lies some of the problems.

If you are using is for garment retail purposes, you may be storing garments and shipping them in slightly damp conditions and containers over vast distances and you may not get to sell them for a few weeks. That nice looking bioplastic bag will start to look a bit fatigued after a few weeks and any moisture will cause it to discolour.

Also, aside from the aesthetic problems that it creates for your product, in an attempt to be ‘eco’ you have just shipped ten thousand bags across half the world using a modern industrialised infrastructure that consumed oil and gas in the production and shipping of the product.

Finally, the redirection of a staple ‘foodstuff’ in an emerging economy which relatively poor people rely upon to sustain them, just sounds like a bad idea.

Plastics with Biodegrading additives.

Some manufacturers of plastic packaging claim to have designed additives that will cause biodegradation of certain plastics.

This works by attracting micro-organisms to the product for them to consume the carbon with the polymers which they use for energy.

The evidence of testing shows that the plastic will indeed break down into smaller parts over a fairly lengthy period of 2 year if left exposed to oxygen, UV light and moisture but once all the carbon is consumed you are still left with material which the micro-organisms will not consume.

It is true then that the product has degraded but the truth is that all that has happened is that it has been broken down into smaller parts to still remain in the environment or to be ingested by marine animals and end up on your plate.

The real solution.

Sounds pithy to say…a bit obvious….and likely to cause some inconvenience somewhere…..……………….just don’t have your garments bagged.

It can be that simple.

Accept that your t shirt supplier is going to bundle them up neatly in a robust, nicely sealed recycled cardboard box and ship them to you so that you can then fold them neatly in a recycled cardboard sleeve to dispatch to your customer.

We have been doing this for one of our Vegan customers now for the last year with a drop ship service, especially for environmentally conscious T-shirts brands.

Shirtworks has an ‘end to end’ fully GOTS compliant garment solution if you are looking to develop your brand in this way.

The team can answer any questions you have.

Hit us up.

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