Ways that fashion threatens the planet

The perception that clothes are ‘nearly disposable’ poses problems for the environment, according to EU research.

The perception that clothes are ‘nearly disposable’ poses problems for the environment, according to EU research. Photograph: Witthaya Prasongsin/Getty Images

Gone to ground

Last week, the government rejected recommendations from the Commons environmental audit committee report on the impact of fast fashion – including a 1p per garment levy. Ministers also rejected a ban on burying or incinerating clothes that could be recycled. According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) UK households sent 300,000 tonnes of clothing to landfill in 2016.

Collective failure

According to a 2019 EU report fashion companies produced two collections a year in 2000, but this had increased to five by 2011, with some chains such as Zara offering 24 collections per annum. The report stated that this had led to clothes being regarded as “nearly disposable” goods.

Polyester menace

One washload of polyester clothes can release 700,000 microplastic fibres into the environment. It is estimated that half a million tonnes of these microfibres end up in the sea each year. Polyester, made from fossil fuels, is non-biodegradable. Microfibres from synthetics are a major contributor to microplastic pollution – a 2019 Bangor University survey of UK rivers, reservoirs and lakes found micro-plastic pollution at all locations tested.

Emissions growth

According to the Pulse of Fashion report in 2015 the industry was responsible for 1,715 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. The UN states that the fashion industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industry combined. The Pulse report forecast fashion emissions to grow by 63% by 2030.

Thirsty work

The production of clothing is very water-intensive. According to the 2017 Wrap report the average water footprint for a kilo of cotton (equivalent to pair of jeans and a shirt) is 10,000-20,000 litres. India and Pakistan are major suppliers of cotton to the UK, but both countries suffer from high levels of water scarcity.

As the crisis escalates…

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