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CLOTHES – we are the only species in the world to wear them, they are a functional necessity and an outlet for pleasure, creativity, and self-expression.
However, textile production produces an estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, which is more than international flights and maritime shipping combined. And that is before we get on to the impact of growing or synthesising the fibres for the fabric; packing, shipping, delivering, displaying and promoting the clothes; washing or dry cleaning them; and ‘throwing them away’.
So, given that climate change is everyone’s problem and responsibility, how can we help to reduce the carbon footprint of what we wear?
The average person buys 60% more items of clothing than in 2005 and keeps them about as half as long (estimates are between 2 years and 5 weeks!). 33% of women consider clothes ‘old’ after 3 wears! It is thought that 14% of adults in developed countries have a behavioural addiction of compulsive buying.
It helps if you try to avoid fast fashion and invest in sustainable, long lasting clothes – ‘The most sustainable garment is the one already in your wardrobe’.
KNOW YOUR FABRICS
The fashion industry is predicted to use 35% more land to grow fibres for fabrics by 2030, which is land that could be used to grow food or used to protect biodiversity.
Synthetic fabric production, including fabric from bamboo, involves highly toxic chemicals which routinely end up in rivers, and are linked to the death of fish, and to health problems in humans.
Cotton may be biodegradable, but growing it uses more pesticides and water than any other crop, and is responsible for polluting environments, poisoning workers and desertification.
Hemp, linen and wool are biodegradable, and have relatively low carbon footprints (approximately half of wools carbon footprint comes from the sheep themselves). Growing flax (for linen), and hemp uses less water, pesticides and fertilisers than cotton.
BUY SECOND HAND
Buying clothes from charity shops is fun, benefits the charity, and can be quite cheap. Some charity shops also sell new clothes (often underwear, socks or tights) that are end-of-line etc donated by high street stores. Oxfam even has an online shop.
But charity shops should not be considered as recycling bins. The UK is the second biggest exporter of used clothes in the world because our charity shops just can’t deal with the volumes of donations. The UK’s cast-offs flooding into Africa undercuts, and destroys, local textiles industries.
SWAP, SHARE, BORROW or RENT
There are so many clothes that we only need for rare occasions (weddings, funerals, Saturday nights, maternity, wetsuits). If we pooled our occasional clothes and shared them out in an organised way (by ‘swishing parties’ or a local volunteer run swap group), it would make a huge impact on our clothing footprint, and our wardrobe space!
There are ‘fashion subscription’ services, which provide a selection of clothes each month, which you return after a month. Some organisations allow members to list their clothes on a website, use geotagging to find the best pieces near them, and then meet up to exchange the goods.
WASH LESS, DRY NATURALLY
25% of each garment’s carbon footprint is as a result of how we wash and dry it. Every time we wash plastic-based fabrics like nylon or polyester they shed microplastic particles that end up in rivers and oceans, eaten by fish and eventually in us (risks to human health are still unknown). It has been estimated that our C footprint was reduced by 700,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent over 5 years through people washing clothes at lower temperatures (you rarely need to wash at higher than 30deg C), shorter cycles, ironing less and tumble drying less frequently.
And clothes last longer if they are washed less often.
An estimated £140 million worth (around 350,000 tonnes) of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year. ‘Returns’ from online shopping often end up in landfill. And these clothes could take as long as 200 years to decompose, and some, like polyester, will be continuously shedding plastic microfibres into the environment. Recycling old fibres into new fabric is difficult and often not worth the energy it uses.
Repairing clothes reduces waste and saves money if you can do it yourself. There are You Tube tutorials and websites eg https://repairwhatyouwear.com/ to help you, and you can usually source the necessary sewing equipment from charity shops, or helpful aunts or grannies. Altering or refashioning clothes can be fun, as can making new items (eg tote bags, ragrugs ) from old clothing.
If you do need to buy new clothes, consider using an ‘Ethical and Sustainable clothing brand’ https://www.thegoodtrade.com/features/fair-trade-clothing