When you think of waste-producing industries, you might think of the energy sector, educational facilities, tech companies, and maybe even food producers. For many, the fact that the fashion industry is a leading waste-producer comes as a surprise.
According to an article produced by Edge, a fashion intelligence company, clothing production doubled in the early 2000s. Consumers fueled this through buying more clothes than previous generations (by factors of 60% more). The list of fashion’s dirty practices could go on for ages, but to name a few:
- 20% of the world’s wastewater is produced by the fashion industry. (source)
- 15% of all fabric purposed for clothing ends up being wasted on cutting-room floors. (source)
- According to NPR, the textile industry produced 15.1 million tons of waste in 2013. 12.8 million tons of that was discarded and never reused.
Regardless of market share, each company in the fashion industry has at some point engaged in wasteful behaviors. This waste was mostly the result of the fast-fashion movement, an industrial attempt to produce clothes at an abnormally quick rate. Instead of new styles taking seasons to produce, they could be roll out new styles within days or weeks.
Fast fashion made clothing styles more affordable and encouraged the rising number of retail addicts. At the height of fast fashion’s reign, the fashion industry was accounting for 10% of the world’s overall carbon emissions.
Today, movements by millennials and environmental activists are demanding more accountability from fashion companies. Burberry, an internationally respected fashion house, was under fire from activists when it was discovered that they burned $36.5 million worth of unsold inventory. Burberry cited this as an attempt to keep the brand’s value high, and the accessibility low.
Since then, Burberry has pledged to stop the wasteful practice. Other companies such as Nike and Adidas have worked closely with environmentalists to stay ahead of the curve by implementing recycling programs. For example, Nike practices a program they call Nike Grind. Nike Grind works to create new products by using recycled footwear and surplus manufacturing scraps.
Despite all of the activism, fast-fashion is still a practice for large retailers around the world. Companies like H&M, Zara, Forever21, Rue21, and Fashion Nova are among those still contributing to the waste problem.
To solve the problem we could, of course, stop buying clothes from these companies. However, as consumers, you can take the relief-efforts a step further. When we decide that we no longer want to wear a piece of clothing we usually throw it away or donate it to a large chain such as Goodwill.
Unfortunately, throwing away your clothes adds to the problem and Goodwill has a questionable track record for managing unsold inventory. To combat this, websites like Embrace Sisu and Poshmark allow consumers to purchase new and used clothing from a loving source. Instead of buying from problem-causing brands, you can shop from these ethically conscious resale markets. This keeps clothes out of landfills and unethical donation-based corporations.
At the end of the day, not everything has to be broken down and reused for new garments; as the old saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!