Sunday, February 09, 2020

Fast Fashion Unsustainable

The so-called fast fashion industry is spewing out 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon into the earth’s atmosphere each year – more than international flights and maritime shipping combined, according to the International Energy Agency. 

A 29.99 pound dress in a high street chain may be made of cotton, an innocuous-sounding natural material, but uses fertilisers which seep into groundwater and create dead zones in lakes and rivers where marine life cannot survive. 

A 5 pound pair of leggings uses polyester, a fabric which is partly to blame for the 98 million tonnes of non-renewable resources like oil the sector uses every year. 

Clothes production including dyes and cotton farming uses 93 billion cubic metres of water annually, according to the Circular Fibres Initiative. This equates to around 37 million Olympic-size swimming pools. 

Despite some retail chains  launching recycling programmes for unwanted clothes, some 73% of garments still end up burned in incinerators, or in landfill. The latter produces methane, a greenhouse gas that therefore contributes to global warming. In Sweden, where clothes textiles are collected for recycling, non-reusable textiles are routinely incinerated, according to the Swedish fashion research programme Mistra Future Fashion. And there is not currently a solution to deal with the methane produced by natural cotton and wool products placed in landfill.

The Circular Fibres Initiative reckons that if the fashion industry’s circular economy fails to get going soon enough, fashion production will require 300 million tonnes of oil by 2050. That’s more than three times today’s requirements.

Retailers reckon all this pollution will disappear once the so-called “circular economy” gets up and running. The market, they say, will turn into a productive utopia where discarded clothes are efficiently recycled and sold back to customers. As such, rather than scaling back, fashion chains are expanding. Mega-chains like Zara have been ramping up the number of collections and new styles they release each year. This has led to a near doubling of clothes production in the past 15 years. 

The growing 'middle class' in China and India is driving up demand for disposable fashion. 

300 million people are employed in the $1.3 trillion global fashion industry. Bangladesh, the world’s second-largest garment producer after China, relies on apparel for more than 80% of its exports, according to the World Bank.

The only certain way to help the planet is to scale back production. There would be less need for fossil fuels, water and landfills. But this cuts across an unsurprising goal to grow its profit and dividend.

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