Going out shopping or purchasing new clothes online for your next holiday or party may seem like an enjoyable past time for many, from which the action of buying something new is exciting. Most will overlook any wider impact and be either unaware or uneducated surrounding the implications of fast fashion. Making high turnaround fashion lines at a cheap cost, accounts for 8-10% of global emissions, 92 million tonnes of waste, and a staggering amount of water and pollutants each year. The UK is the world’s leading fast fashion consuming country, with the average Briton spending almost 1k on the cheap clothing craze each year. More shockingly, a survey conducted on the spending habits of 16- 24-year-olds in the UK, revealed that on average they purchased at least one clothing item per week.
What is fast fashion?
The term fast fashion refers to the quick turnaround production of low- cost clothing items, which drives consumers to shop more frequently for the latest trends in fashion. Think about how often you go clothes shopping in your local town, and how frequently there is a new array of items on display with every visit. You must consider, what happens to those clothes that didn’t sell? Or if items are on sale, who is the most negatively affected by the cost reduction, is it the seller or the maker? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions lays in areas that are not visible to the Western consumer. Millions of tonnes of fashion waste end up in landfill sites in the UK and abroad each year, where most materials are not of a re-usable quality. Only 12% of fashion waste is recycled or shredded into mattress stuffing, and despite the ‘green washing’ you may have been fed by fashion brands, only 1% of textile waste is recycled into new clothes. Even so, if brands boast to recycle plastic waste into new clothes, there is still no waste reduction overall because this plastic is not biodegradable. In addition, the fast fashion industry is heavily associated with modern slavery, and with businesses that are employing underpaid garment makers who generally work in unfavourable conditions abroad. Most fast fashion brands you may know are owned by only a handful of big companies, so your consumerism is essentially funding the main giants and drivers for fast fashion waste worldwide.
Why is fast fashion so polluting?
Fast fashion is a leading contributor to landfill waste, which contaminates the land and depletes biodiversity, emits greenhouse gases and toxic atmospheric pollutants such as methane, hydrogen compounds, sulphur and carbon dioxide, thus driving the climate crisis.
The chemical dyes used in the production of fashion (43 million tonnes of chemicals per year), contaminate natural water bodies, leach into the ground, and feed into the drinking water of surrounding communities. Cheap synthetic materials used in fast fashion production such as polyester (made from oil) deplete natural resources and shed micro-plastics into the ocean once undergoing the dyeing/washing process. Polyester manufacture requires an estimated 342 barrels of oil every year to produce the polymers for the plastic- fabric. Moreover, the micro-plastics are too small to be filtered out by water cleaning systems, from which they then escape into natural water bodies and eradicate marine organisms. The water used to produce clothes is also substantial, it takes 5,400 water bottles worth to make just one T-shirt, and almost four times that to produce a pair of jeans due to the washing/dyeing process.
39,000 tonnes of fashion waste end up in the Chilean Atacama Desert landfill site annually, and the cost to move it elsewhere is too high (Daily mail, 2021).
Your future action
Fast fashion manufacturing companies will not be stopping production lines any time soon, and you may consider that an individual choice will be a mere ‘drop in the ocean’ to tackling the problem. However, together we can make an impact if enough fast fashion refusal happens collectively. The changing behaviour of enough individuals will not only reduce fast fashion waste over time, but can develop the future generation to become educated on the implications. Hopefully, these tactics will force fast fashion companies to become more sustainable and chose better fabrics.
Here are some ideas that you can do now:
- Think about your wardrobe – how much goes unworn in a year? Do you really need more clothes?
- Challenge yourself to refuse to buy any brand- new clothes for a year
- Set a limit for how many new clothing items you buy in a year
- Buy more second – hand clothing. Charity shops raise vital funds and help to increase the reuse of items
- Become more conscious about the brands and fabrics you are buying. Consider buying better made, longer lasting and higher quality clothing.
- Consider sustainability certifications such as the Better Cotton Initative (The world doesn’t just need cotton, it needs Better Cotton. ) and Fairtrade Cotton (Cotton – Fairtrade Foundation ).
- There are many sustainable clothing apps to assist you such as, Depop, Vinted, Shpock, Hazzar, and Ebay.
- If you have clothes to dispose of – consider selling them, give or swap them with friends / family, or donating them to a charity shop / donation bin. If they are unwearable, put them in a textile bin. See Clothing and textiles | Recycle Now to find your nearest location.
- Wearing your clothes more and washing less reduces your water footprint and the amount of fibres that are released. Most clothes can be washed effectively at 30 degrees. These simple actions will save you money!
By Julia Cope
What is Fast Fashion? | Earth.Org 23/03/23
The fast-fashion waste mountain: Gigantic pile of clothes looms over desert in Chile | Daily Mail Online 13/04/23