Wear Your Clothes a Little Longer to Protect the Environment

Agence Science-Presse (www.sciencepresse.qc.ca)

The fashion industry is less closely looked at for pollution than, say, the oil industry. But ecologists have known for some time that it is very polluting. And the trend towards “fast fashion” and “disposable fashion” isn’t helping. Are there solutions in sight?

“The fashion sector is among those industries with the greatest impact on climate change,” and reinforces “socio-economic inequalities around the world,” says a 2020 Oxfam document.  

A lot of the problem finds its origin in the disposable fashion industry, usually termed “fast fashion.” For 30 years, with its profusion of low cost products made to be bought in big numbers and worn for only a short time, fast fashion items soon end up in the garbage bin, as they are made from non-recyclable materials.

Vogue magazine, which specializes in fashion, recently estimated  at 100 billion the number of clothing items bought each year on the planet; 60% of these are thrown out within a year of their purchase. And this isn’t just a western trend. In India, over the last 15 years, the number of times an article of clothing is worn may have dropped by a third.

From a strictly financial viewpoint, the fast fashion industry is a huge success. But it’s an environmental disaster. Numbers on this subject vary, but experts agree that it is on the list of the most destructive industries in terms of greenhouse gases, way behind the food industry but probably ahead of automobiles and electronics. The fashion industry consumes 100 million tons of non-renewable resources each and every year, and creates 20% of all wastewater used up by industries.

“Ultimately, the long-term stability of the fashion industry relies on the total abandonment of the fast-fashion model” says Kirsi Niinimäki of the University of Aalto in Finland in New Scientist magazine. She was one of the authors of a 2020 study that estimates that the average American consumer buys 66 articles of clothing per year, and throws out about as many. Except that the industry is dragging its heels at making itself sustainable, or practicing a circular economy. There are technologies that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from clothing production, and choices to be made – or imposed by governments – to increase the production of clothing made from recyclable materials.

The consumer also has a role to play, Niinimäki adds. They may be helped along by labelling which allows shoppers to determine which items are “green.” “Consumers say that the supply chain should be more transparent, so that we know exactly what clothes are made from and what conditions they were made in.”

We aren’t there yet. But for now the most efficient way to go from “disposable fashion” to “sustainable fashion” is, according to a recent report by the Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation, is… to wear your clothes for longer.    

To learn more, read:

Fast fashion is ruining the planet—here’s how to make it sustainableNew Scientist, June 1st 2022

French version on Reflet de Société website

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