The Problem of ‘Fast Fashion’ and Why You Need to Recycle Your Old Clothes


These days we have access to a wider range of clothing than ever, and not only that, we can buy it on a budget. This is good news for our pockets, but not so good for the environment.

Figures show the rise of cheap and cheerful ‘fast fashion’, such as that sold by stores like Primark, coupled with a shortage of raw materials has meant that the UK’s carbon footprint has continued to rise.

The amount of clothing being sent to landfill has fallen by 14% from 350,000 tonnes in 2012 to around 300,000 today, but a quarter of unwanted clothing is still being thrown away rather than being recycled.

The carbon emissions created by the purchase of almost 1.13 million tonnes of clothing has put it high up on the list of things that cause the largest impact on the environment. Clothing is 4th on the list behind housing, transport, and food.


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But we are doing something good

It’s not all bad news though, a 2017 report ‘Valuing our Clothes: The Cost of UK Fashion,’ found that UK households are saving 700,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year by washing clothes at lower temperatures, and tumble-drying them far less often.

However, the report identified a need for the UK to find other sources of sustainable materials for clothing, and to develop ‘fibre to fibre’ recycling more. This is the process of turning old clothing into new items.

Sustainable clothing action plan

Wrap (the waste and resources action organisation) launched a sustainable clothing action plan in 2013. This was a voluntary agreement, which was signed by 58% of retailers, pledging to meet targets to reduce carbon emissions, water usage, and waste during the life cycle of the products they sell.

Wrap are delighted that while less clothing is ending up in landfill, there is a need to meet growing demand for clothing with items made using more sustainable practices and methods. They also say that landfill might be decreasing because people are just hoarding clothes at home.

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The worst offenders

Wrap say that they are urging retailers and clothing brands to focus on some of the items which cause the most impact on the environment, such as women’s dresses, jumpers and jeans, and men’s t-shirts and jumpers.

To put it in perspective, to grow 1kg of cotton leaves a global water footprint of 10,000-20,000 litres.

Why should you recycle your clothes?

It reduces greenhouse gas emissions

Many items of clothing are made from natural materials, so when they are sent to landfill, they degrade by anaerobic digestion and in the process, greenhouse gases are produced.

If we recycle 100 million pounds of clothing, this saves the equivalent of the emissions from 35,000 cars.

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Landfill space is running out

Landfills are bad for the environment, and they aren’t a sustainable way to dispose of waste. Landfill is expensive, and available space is running out.

It saves energy

Making clothing uses a lot of energy, like electricity and water. If you recycle clothes, you ensure that the energy used doesn’t go to waste.

Old clothes can become new things

Even clothes that aren’t in good enough condition to be worn again can be recycled. They can be used as cloths for cleaning, insulation, or even paper! It costs less to make new items from recycled materials than it does to make completely new items from scratch.

It can help people who are less fortunate

If you donate your clothes to charity shops or put them in charity bags, they can benefit less fortunate people in the UK and abroad.

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Why is textile production so bad for the environment?

  • Farmers use pesticides to protect textile crops, which can harm wildlife, and cause contamination of the foods we eat.
  • The chemicals used to dye textiles can damage the environment and people’s health.
  • Discarded textiles are filling up landfill sites, which are rapidly running out.
  • If we use up too many natural resources, this is bad news for the environment and disturbs ecological balance.

Natural fibres are problematic

Cotton

A lot of pesticides are used to grow cotton. These tend to remain in the fabric, even after it has been harvested. Growing enough cotton to make just one t-shirt uses up over 250 gallons of water. Then add to this the impact of chemical dyes, and you’ll see how bad cotton production is for the environment.

Wool

Turning wool into clothing uses a lot of energy and water, not to mention the dyes involved.

Nylon and polyester

Both of these materials are made from petrochemicals, and they also don’t degrade. Making nylon creates the greenhouse gas, nitric oxide, and making polyester uses huge amounts of energy and water.

The rise of eco fashion

Eco-fashion is all about making clothes that take into account environmental impact, people’s health, and their working conditions.

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Eco fashion clothes:

  • Are made using organic raw materials like cotton that is not grown with pesticides
  • Aren’t dyed using chemicals
  • Are often made from recycled textiles
  • Are made to be durable, so people tend to keep them for longer
  • Are often fair trade, which means that the people who make them are paid fairly and have reasonable working conditions