An inquiry has been launched today by the House of Commons environmental audit committee to assess the impact of fast fashion in the UK. This comes amidst growing concerns that the industry, which contributed £28.1 billion to national GDP in 2015, up from £21bn in 2009, according to the British Fashion Council, is treating clothes as disposable, a harmful concept which has a lasting impact on society, wasting valuable resources and contributing to climate change.
The inquiry will look into the carbon impact, resource use and water footprint of clothing throughout its lifecycle and supply chain. Something that has greatly changed in the wake of a growing throwaway culture that’s been made possible with the prevalence of the ‘fast fashion’ sector.
“Fashion shouldn’t cost the earth” said Mary Creagh MP, chair of the committee, today. “But the way we design, make and discard clothes has a huge environmental impact. Producing clothes requires climate-changing emissions. Every time we put on a wash, thousands of plastic fibres wash down the drain into the oceans. We don’t know where or how to recycle end-of-life clothing.”
Image courtesy: A woman photographs French artist Christian Boltanski’s ‘No Man’s Land’, made up of around 30 tonnes of discarded clothing. Photograph: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
If you put to one side the enormous human cost in the often opaque fast fashion supply chain, and consider only the raw materials used to manufacture clothes, it too is immense. It requires land and water, or the extraction of fossil fuels, as well as carbon dioxide that is emitted throughout the clothing supply chain and some chemical dyes, finishes and coatings can be extremely toxic. Beyond this, research has found that plastic microfibres in clothing are released when washed, and enter rivers, the ocean and even the food chain. And, at the end of the garment’s life, most end up in landfill, releasing harmful toxins as they rot away, with most plastics (including polyester and nylon) unable to biodegrade.
In fact, a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation attributed the annual cost to the UK economy of landfilling clothing and household textiles at around £82m, warning that if the global fashion industry continues on its current growth path, it could use more than a quarter of the world’s annual carbon budget by 2050.
If parliament can help change our current “more is more” mindset to become more mindful, it’s a step in the right direction towards protecting our planet and our future. The committee will explore how the powerful sector should remodel itself to be both “thriving and sustainable”, looking at how improved recycling rates of clothing could slash waste and pollution.
The focus will also fall on how consumers could be encouraged to buy fewer clothes, reuse clothes and think about how best to dispose of clothes when they’re no longer wanted. An estimated 300,000 tonnes of fashion waste goes straight into landfill each year.
What can you do? Think about your purchases. Only buy when you truly love a piece. That way you can be sure you will want to hold onto that item for years to come. Avoid trends, instead go with what works best for your body shape, skin tone and general style. Take care when cleaning. And, if the time comes to kiss goodbye, look for ways to pass it on to a good home.