The North Face joins the Plastic Cutback

No packaging to landfill when you buy The North Face products from Surfdome or Webtogs.

Words by Billy Wilson

The Plastic Cutback initiative which has now added The North Face to its list of affiliated brands, has a simple goal: to stop sending plastic packaging out into the wider world, where it can end up almost anywhere.

Alongside Surfdome, our sister store, Webtogs has almost completely phased out plastic from our own packaging, replacing it with natural fibre solutions. Now we’re turning our attention to the clear plastic bags known as poly bags, which items of clothing typically come wrapped in.

Low-density polyethylene (LDPE), the type of plastic in question, isn’t accepted at most recycling points, so the chances of it getting to a recycling depot and actually being recycled are slim. More likely it will go to landfill, through waterways and oceans are also common destinations.

So we’re trying to create a “closed-loop”. From now on, when you buy The North Face from Surfdome or Webtogs, we’re making a promise: no polybag will end up in landfill as a result of your purchase. The product you receive won’t be wrapped in a polybag, which in turn won’t end up leaking into the environment, as so many of these bags do.

We’re taking the plastic packaging literally out of your hands. Keep reading to find out how and why.

If you’ve been following our efforts to reduce our contribution to plastic pollution (marine and outdoors), you’ll know that the fashion industry has a polybag problem – billions of them, in fact. Many of the brands we stock, The NorthFace among them, are aware of the problem too.

What do we mean by a polybag problem? Here’s a quick recap: roughly 80 billion items of clothing are sold a year, and almost every one of these items is at some stage wrapped in a polybag.

Bear in mind that 72% of plastic still winds up either in landfills or escaping into ecosystems. For poly bags, that figure is as high as 90%, due to the various difficulties involved in recycling them.

Above: Our plastic-free packaging. An automated packing machine cuts it to size, which means less material and fewer lorries on the road.

Most councils won’t accept LDPE left in standard curbside recycling bins, and so generally it doesn’t get recycled at all. (Plenty of people don’t realise this and persist in throwing poly bags in their green bin, which ultimately means less plastic ends up getting recycled, owing to the inconvenience this causes.)

And yet it’s not as simple as just eliminating poly bags from the whole process. These bags do serve a purpose: without their protection, countless items would be damaged and thrown away, with potentially even worse environmental consequences. Meanwhile, biodegradable bags bring complications of their own, often biodegrading too fast (to the detriment of the product inside) or too slowly (to the detriment of the environment).

Above: A batch of poly bags at our warehouse, about to be sent off for recycling via our recycling partners Agecko. See? It’s easier this way.

In 2019 our own packaging was 99.81% plastic-free; 99.44% was made up of recycled natural fibres. But that’s just “outbound” packaging, the packaging on top of the packaging. There’s still the “inbound” packaging to worry about – products arrive at our warehouse in poly bags, which are passed on to customers, who inevitably struggle to reach one of the few collection points (certain supermarkets, for instance) where poly bags are accepted for recycling.

So for every The North Face product purchased during the Plastic Cutback trial, we’ll do that bit for you: remove the polybag for the last and least intensive leg of its journey. It’s easier for us, as we can recycle in bulk via a trusted third party. Your product still gets to you safe and sound, and we’ll make sure the polybag is recycled properly. Not the solution – just our one.

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