The fashion industry is all about clothing trends or what’s hip or stylish at present. But there is another trend, that if not curbed is threatening to destroy our environment – the trend of rising global carbon emissions.
The fashion industry and carbon emissions, what’s the link between the two?
Well, as a billion-dollar industry, it is second only to oil as the most polluting industry. In America alone there is more than 15 million tons of textile waste each year, of this only around 2 million tons were recycled, 3 million tons combusted for energy, and 10 million were sent to landfills. An average American throws 80 pounds of used clothing each year (Leblanc, 2019). And these clothes end up in landfills.
If the material is made from cotton, then it is easier to decompose but if it is made from synthetic materials then it takes hundreds of years to decompose in landfills (The Fashion Industry’s, 2019).
Landfills are also the third-largest source of methane emissions in the US alone. And waste does not only come from the clothes thrown away but also from textile residues at 12 per cent during manufacturing (The Fashion Industry’s, 2019). Throwing away clothes and waste from manufacturing creates mountains of waste each day.
Recognizing the fashion industry’s contribution to environmental waste and its climate impacts, the United Nations gathered all the players of the industry from raw materials producers, textile produces, apparel manufacturers, to big brands in order for them to come up with a cohesive plan to reduce their carbon emissions and identify opportunities to do this. Representatives from all sectors have come up to a consensus to reduce their greenhouse gas emission and put the industry on track to meet the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Meetings of Fashion, 2030).
As a result, the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action was created which contains the industry’s vision to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 (Fashion for Global, 2020). The 7-page document includes the industry’s support of the Paris agreement and its role and commitment to reducing carbon emissions across all sectors of the industry (Fashion Industry Charter, 2018).
As consumers here are some practical things we could do to will benefit the environment.
Re-use. Before shopping for a new dress, shirt, or pants, check your wardrobe. You may already have one or two good ones that you have not used for a while. Re-using your existing wardrobe is always a win-win for the environment and for your wallet.
Buy quality clothes that will keep for long and use them for longer. Extending the life of your clothes by 9 months can help reduce water, emission by around 4-10% (The Fashion Industry’s, 2010).
Donate to clothes recycling outlets. Using technology and developed chemicals, the industry can now recycle materials made of cotton, polyester, or even blended fibre into a usable fibre to make new garments. This does not only reduce waste but creates a circular system (The Fashion Industry’s, 2010).
Swap or resell. Perhaps you have discovered Facebook Marketplace? Well, it’s a good place to sell or swap your pre-loved clothes, isn’t it?
Buy second-hand clothes. For instance, if you’re a mother with a growing baby or kids, look for online outlets or even local shops that sell secondhand baby clothes and donate your baby’s outgrown clothing to it as well. (How the Fashion, 2019). Even though you’re not a mother, buying second-hand good quality clothes is not only helping the environment but lighter on the pocket as well.
As consumers, our attitude towards clothing and fashion can affect our shopping practices. And before buying on impulse for new clothes or throwing it away, think twice and consider the impacts it will have on the environment.
It is good to know that fashion industries are recognising their contribution to climate change and are acting on it.
Let us hope that this trend continues and that all sectors of the fashion industry will take steps to reduce their emissions, manage their wastes, and opt for more sustainable and environment-friendly materials to use.