Ugly Christmas Sweaters Are Contributing to Plastic Pollution

published Dec 26, 2019
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Ugly holiday sweaters are a Christmas party staple. Think Fair Isle motifs of Christmas trees, snowflakes, and poinsettia. Think Ms. Frizzle, your grandma, your extremely earnest middle school health teacher. There’s nothing more harmless than an over-the-top seasonal sweater, right? Well, if (unlike your grandma, probably) you wear that sweater just once for a party and then never again, you’re likely contributing to plastic pollution.

The Guardian reported earlier this month that people in the U.K. were expected to buy 12 million holiday sweaters during this Christmas season, despite already owning 65 million. Additionally, analysis by environmental organization Hubbub found that most sweaters from major retailers are partly, if not entirely, made of plastic. Of the 108 sweaters Hubbub analyzed, three out of four had acrylic (in other words, plastic) content, and 44% were made completely of acrylic.

Hubbub also found that “two out of five Christmas jumpers are only worn once over the festive period,” according to The Guardian, “and one in three adults under 35 buys a new Christmas jumper every year.” As popular as Christmas sweaters are, most people Hubbub surveyed didn’t realize they might contain plastic (only 29% of participants did).

Acrylic contributes to plastic pollution by releasing microplastics into the wash. According to a recent study by Plymouth University, acrylic releases about 730,000 microfibres per wash, which, The Guardian writes, is “five times more than polyester-cotton blend fabric and nearly 1.5 times as many as pure polyester.”

Sarah Divall, project coordinator at Hubbub, told The Guardian: “We don’t want to stop people dressing up and having a great time at Christmas but there are so many ways to do this without buying new. Fast fashion is a major threat to the natural world and Christmas jumpers are problematic as so many contain plastic. We’d urge people to swap, buy secondhand or rewear, and remember a jumper is for life not just for Christmas.”