The fashion industry accounts for about 10% of global carbon emissions, and nearly 20% of wastewater. Many changes needed to make clothing more sustainable have to be implemented by the manufacturers and big companies that control the fashion industry. Biocouture, or fashion made from more environmentally sustainable materials, is increasingly big business. Some companies are looking to use waste from wood, fruit and other natural materials to create their textiles. Others are trying alternative ways of dyeing their fabrics or searching for materials that biodegrade more easily once thrown away.
But as consumers the changes we all make in our behaviour not only add up, but can drive change in the industry, too.
Here are a few ways you can change your consumer behaviour and individually have an impact:
- Choosing brands that are committed to sustainability in process, for example switching to recycled polyester fabric can help to reduce the carbon emissions – recycled polyester releases half to a quarter of the emissions of virgin polyester.
- Addressing the way we shop; online shopping reduces our lower carbon footprint as long as our consumer behaviour doesn’t lean towards a fast fashion culture where we buy more than we need and return large proportion of items. Returning items can effectively double the emissions from transporting your goods, and if you factor in failed collections and deliveries, that number can grow further. A simple way to reduce the footprint from online shopping is to only order what we really want and intend to keep. According to the World Bank, 40% of clothing purchased in some countries is never used.
- A number of public surveys also suggest that many of us have clothes in our wardrobes that we hardly ever wear. According to one survey, nearly half of the clothes in the average UK person’s wardrobe are never worn, primarily because they no longer fit or have gone out of style. Another found that a fifth of the items owned by US consumers are unworn. It is clear that investing in higher-quality clothing, wearing them more often and holding onto them for longer, is the not-so-secret weapon for combatting the carbon footprint from your garments. In the UK, continuing to actively wear a garment for just nine months longer could diminish its environmental impacts by 20–30%.
- Cutting down on washing can also help to further reduce the carbon footprint of your wardrobe, while also helping to lower water use and the number of microfibres shed in the washing machine. In fact you don’t actually need to wash your clothes as often as you think, reducing the amount of washing that you need to do is the best way of making sure that the plastics don’t get into the water system.
- Where clothing have been worn or damaged beyond repair, the most environmentally sound way of disposing them is to send them for recycling. Clothing recycling is still relatively new for many fabrics but increasingly cotton and polyester clothing can now be turned into new clothes or other items. Some major manufacturers have now started using recycled fabrics, but it is often hard for consumers to find places to take their old clothes.
Some UK clothing recycled companies are:
Source Christine Ro, BBC Online