Fixing our Fast Fashion Culture
"The Government must change the system to end the throwaway society." - Environmental Audit Committee
This week the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) released a 75 page paper titled ‘Fixing Fashion’ offering an in depth look into the often unsustainable nature of commercial fashion today.
Appointed to consider the extent to which both government and public bodies contribute to environment and sustainable development, the committee has spent the past eight months looking at the impact of fast-fashion… a long overdue, yet positive step to making textile manufacturing and distribution more sustainable.
Here we outline the initial challenge, some headline facts, and subsequent recommendations from the report…
following our current trajectory, the Paris Agreement target of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C will be exceeded
In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that, on our current trajectory, the Paris Agreement target of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C will be exceeded – with projections published in December suggesting that global emissions from burning fossil fuels hit an all-time high in 2018.
Prior to this, the UK has taken a number of steps in its sustainability transition: shifting to cleaner sources of electricity and signing up to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 12). However, as we move into a more challenging phase of emission reduction, the UK must go further – with cross-industry collaboration to meet our future carbon budgets and reach net zero emissions by 2050.
For the Fashion industry, this requires a drastic 90% reduction in output; a monumental challenge considering the high volume/quick churn model of today’s ‘Fast Fashion’ as highlighted in the committee’s report.
– According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, more than $500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilisation and the lack of recycling.
– In the UK, WRAP estimates that we binned up to 300,000 tonnes of textiles last year alone.
– By 2030 global apparel consumption is projected to rise by 63%, from 62 million tonnes today to 102 million tonnes.
– On its current path, the fashion industry will use up to a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.
The EAC, chaired by Mary Creagh MP, have made a series of proposals advising the government to make amendments to policy – from business reporting to due diligence regulations, even going so far as to suggest changes to the National Curriculum to promote a culture of mending rather than disposing of clothes.
Here we break a few of these down…
– On the subject of Supply Chain Transparency & Modern Day Slavery Act, the EAC encourages the Government to publish an accessible list of all retailers required to release a modern slavery statement. The committee recommends this should be supported by an appropriate penalty for those companies who fail to report and comply with the Modern Slavery Act.
– Regarding ‘Made in the UK’ labelling, the committee agreed it’s unacceptable that garment workers in the UK (working for fast fashion retailers) are not paid the minimum wage and suffer serious breaches of health and safety law in their places of work. The EAC urged support from Sir David Metcalf, Director of Labour Market Enforcement, for a more proactive approach to the enforcement of the national minimum wage.
– This followed a recommendation for international retailers to sign up to the Global Framework Agreement as a way of ensuring the highest standard of trade union rights, health, safety and environmental practices, across global operations rather than only having to meet baseline local standards.
– The EAC outline that we are unwittingly wearing out the fresh water supply of central Asia and destroying fragile ecosystems. It is suggested that consumers can play their part by avoiding products with pre-made rips and tears (to avoid premature breakdown) and seeking sustainable or organic cotton where possible. Government should oblige retailers to ensure full traceability in their supply chains to prove decent livelihoods and sustainably sourced materials.
– The EAC strongly advises Government to facilitate collaboration between fashion retailers, water companies and washing machine manufacturers and to take a lead on solving the problem of microfibre pollution, urging Fashion retailers to test new synthetic garments for fibre release, and publishing these findings as a way of benefiting the industry as a whole.
– Given current consumption rates, it was agreed that a complete transition from synthetic to natural fibres in response to the problem of ocean microfibre pollution would result in significant pressures on land and water use. Though an incremental shift toward materials such as organic cotton and recycled PET is encouraged, the EAC recommends that the Government introduces rewards for fashion companies designing products with lower environmental impacts, penalising those that do not. The EAC prompts the Government to investigate whether its proposed tax on virgin plastics, due to come into effect in 2022, should be applied to textile products that contain less than 50% recycled PET to stimulate the market for recycled fibres in the UK.
– It was agreed that reuse and recycling should be a priority means of dealing with immovable stock and that incineration should only be used as a last resort due to the extreme health and safety risks involved. They write that the Government should ban the incineration and landfill of unsold stock that could otherwise be reused or recycled.
– The committee nominates the Government to enforce fashion retailers take responsibility for the waste they create, rewarding businesses that take positive action to reduce waste. Primary antidotes are to simply buy less, mend and share more – and to support this the EAC proposes that lessons on designing, creating, mending and repairing clothes be included in schools at Key stage 2 and 3.
On its current path, the fashion industry will use up to a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050
Typically, it takes a couple of months for Government to respond to a committees submission. So whilst we eagerly await what may come of this, here are some suggestions for immediate, individual action…
Word of mouth is powerful when it comes to circulating the conversations surrounding climate change. In short, be more Greta Thunberg. The NCVO’s (The National Council for Voluntary Organisations) KnowHow site offers extensive direction and advice for political lobbying, public campaigns and digital networking if you feel empowered to take it to the next step. If that proves impractical, simply begin by writing to your local MP with your concerns. For more immediate change, holding events like a clothes swap is both sociable and helps keep garments in the loop for much longer. Alternatively, there are often ones you can attend advertised on EventBrite or the like.
We love EcoAge, the BoF Sustainability News page, Fashion Revolution’s blog for their breaking stories and up-to-date reports. Additionally, for an overview of a brand’s ethical and sustainable practices, mobile apps such as Good On You rate and review these on your behalf, saving time and energy.
Loved Clothes Last
The organisation LoveYourClothes brought to you by the charity WRAP UK(Waste and Resources Action Programme) is a brilliant and very thorough resource for care and repair tips with downloadable PDFs and how-to videos.
Buy Less, Buy Better
Seeking out second-hand or one-off vintage purchases, or investing in sustainable independent labels, not only helps to support a small business but often results in a greater connection between you and your wardrobe. Etsy, Trouva and NotOnTheHighstreet all play host to a vast array of handmade, more authentic goods. Platforms like More This Less That are helping to connect customers with sustainable brands that you may not already know of.
Always Read the Label
Avoiding non-recyclable fibres like polyester, nylon, acrylic and polyamide will help stem the flow of microfibres into the marine environment. Guppy Friend bags also help catch these microscopic plastics so they can be discarded in a less detrimental way by way of household rubbish. The 2019 Future Fabrics expo was a great chance to see how far innovative fabrics – such as apple skin fibre (by FRUMAT), pineapple leather (Piñatex® by Ananas Anam) and Microsilk® (lab-grown replica of spider silk protein by Boltthreads) – have come with the advance of new technologies.
To watch for some more background insight:
All information derived from House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, Fixing Fashion: Clothing Consumption and Sustainability(including extractions from their own external research sources). Accessed on 20/02/19.