Industry failures highlighted in study and calls for change in consumer attitudes. Experts have stated that the fashion industry must fundamentally change to reduce the environmental impact of fast fashion.
They suggested that they could assist with things like clothing rental, improved recycling, pollution control technology, and innovative use of offcuts.
The report was published in Nature Reviews Earth and Environment – A look at the environmental costs of the industry and the changes needed to address them.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that the fashion industry contributes 10% to global carbon dioxide emissions each year. However, it consumes approximately 1.5 trillion litres per year. Meanwhile concerns have been rising about pollution, from chemical waste to microplastics.
One of the most problematic developments is fast fashion, which involves cheap clothes that are quickly thrown away as trends change. This includes the PS1 bikini sold last year by Missguided.
“It’s really a global issue,” stated Dr Patsy Perry from Manchester University, co-author of this research.
Perry and a group of international colleagues pointed out that clothes can have traveled around the globe multiple times during manufacturing. However, it is possible that 3% of garment transportation would shift from ship to ship cargo. This trend is gaining momentum in the industry and could lead to over 100% more carbon dioxide emissions than if all garment transport was by ship.
The team also points out the industry’s water use, carbon dioxide emissions and textile waste. They also point to the use of chemicals. These substances are considered not only dangerous for the environment but can pose health risks for anyone involved. They write that one European textile-finishing firm uses more than 466g of chemicals per kilogramm of textile.
While many garments are used in the USA or EU, many are produced in developing nations. According to the team, poor communication of requirements not only leads to increased fabric waste but also makes it more difficult for countries producing garments to comply with pollution regulations. Perry stated that the waste water is polluting freshwater streams and contaminating rivers where people fish from and live.
The report emphasizes that limited natural resources means the fashion industry needs to change. It outlines a variety of ways it can become greener. These include embracing renewable energy, developing new methods of recycling, and reducing the use polyester, a non-biodegradable fiber, made from petrochemicals.
They argue that the industry should concentrate on making better quality, longer-lasting items while promoting new resale methods and renting clothes.
They add that fashion must be understood as a product and not entertainment. Consumers should also be prepared to pay more for fashion’s environmental impact.
This isn’t the first time that solutions for fast fashion have been discussed. MPs from the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), proposed a variety of measures last year. These included a 1p per-new item charge for clothing, which would fund recycling and collection. The government rejected all of them.
Libby Peake, a member of the Green Alliance, stated that the UK has a problem with fast fashion.
She said, “We buy more clothing per capita than any other European country, including almost twice as many as the Italians who are better-known for their fashion sense.”
She said that the report emphasized the importance of second-hand clothing, as well as the need to improve quality and clothing rental programs. Despite rising consumption, industry-led efforts to reduce environmental impacts were ineffective.
She stated that slow fashion was the only viable future for the industry as well as the planet.
Co-founder of Fashion Revolution campaign, Carry Somers, also highlighted the danger of chemical use in fashion, particularly in clothing made outside of the EU, where it can be difficult to determine the source of the chemicals.
The report was also approved by Prof Steve Evans, a Cambridge University expert on industrial sustainability. He said that it was not clear how much of the industry’s impact on the environment was due to fast fashion. The “closed loop” industry faces a major challenge in that all sectors must work together, from production to recycling and retailing.
Evans stated that a future in which fibre production and disposal is lower does not necessarily mean there will be fewer outfits if garments are rented or resold. He said that while it might seem fast fashion to the fashionista, it is slow fashion for the planet.