By Ricci Bryson
Fashion and the environment don’t always go hand in hand. From the production of the energy which fuels the manufacturing process, to the chemicals used to dye, bond and design the garment, there are dozens of element in the process that can noticeably affect the environment. Like the seasons of our planet, the fashion industry changes on a regular basis, what would have been last week’s avant-garde fashion statements will be tomorrow charity shop window display on Brixton high street.
Transport, high energy and inefficient production processes mean that the energy costs of textiles and clothing are high. Even though the fashion industry may be a significant contributor to the Earth’s energy and environment problems, there are other ways in which people can make a difference to help minimise its effect.
Energy use plays a significant part of the textile and fashion process, the Well Dressed? report commissioned by the University of Cambridge, found that the textiles industry consumes around 989,000 tonnes of oil equivalent in energy used for fashion production.
In addition to the energy consumption, the fashion and textile industry also uses around 90 million tonnes of water – no small amount. So who have would thought that the polo shirt or blouse you’re currently wearing could potentially be a world polluter – slightly dramatic I know, but it’s the fashion industry ‘dharling’.
One of the major issues for the UK is not only how textiles and clothing is made, but how it is disposed of at the end of its life. According to DEFRA, it is estimated that more than 1 million tonnes of textiles are thrown away every year in the UK alone. At least 50% of the textiles that go to landfill are recyclable; however, the proportion of textile wastes reused or recycled annually in the UK is only around 25%. A small percentage of clothing is sent for energy recovery.
Even with all this doom and gloom for D&G, there are solutions out there which can help with this problem, helping to minimise the energy consumption that is apparel industry emits. It is suggested that only around 25% of clothing is recycles or reused in the UK, with 75% of the UK total being sent to landfill or energy recovery.
Recycling clothes is big business and over the years has grown from strength to strength. It’s not just the blue rinse brigade that are shopping until they drop for bargains in charity shops. Everyone from all social backgrounds and ages are popping in the iconic high street ‘chazzas’ – as they are called by the street generation – in search for bargains galore.
Most people don’t always associate that by donating their old clothes to charity shops, not only are they helping to raise funds for the shop, but they are also doing our bit for the environment by diverting it from going to landfill. There are some brilliant ethical online communities out there which are dedicated to sustainable fashion; one of these being the Ethical Fashion Forum.
The Guardian also has a very handy Ethical Fashion Directory which list dozens of sustainable retailers across the country. Almost everything can be recycled nowadays, even old drink cartons and face wipe packaging, can be up-cycled to make ingenious everyday items – as highlighted by the ethical up-cycling store Terra Cycle.
There is still a lot to be done, but as you can see, whether you are recycling or upcycling, you can do your small – but very important – bit to help reduce your personal carbon footprint and help cut our energy use. I mean, as good as you may look strutting your stuff in your LBD, take a minute to think about where that dress has been imported from, how many gallons of water has been used to make it and to wash it, and the amount of energy that has been burned to create that gorgeous garment – little in size it may be, but chances are its carbon footprint is much larger.