November 7, 2023
From recycled materials and water and energy savings to reducing carbon emissions, every effort counts when it comes to reducing the textile industry’s impact on the environment. But these efforts appear to be of little or no use as the volumes of clothing produced and purchased continue to rise, according to a new report from a British NGO.
Shopaholics will need to change their habits to help make the fashion industry greener. While it is difficult to say whether overproduction or overconsumption is responsible for the textile industry’s impact on the planet, it is clear that the two are closely related. In any case, the incessant increase in the number of garments produced – and purchased – represents an environmental disaster, according to a report by the British NGO The Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP), which maintains that efforts to reduce the environmental impact of garments clothing are being “canceled” due to the increase in production volumes.
“WRAP warns the textile industry that production levels negate crucial environmental improvements for fashion and textiles,” reads the press release accompanying the report. The report reviews the efforts made by brands and retailers who have signed up to Textiles 2030, an initiative designed to accelerate the British fashion industry’s transition towards a circular economy. Key findings from the report include the fact that the average person in the UK buys 28 new fashion items each year, or 8kg per person, corresponding to more than 500,000 tonnes for the entire country.
Highlighting industry efforts
The Textiles 2030 initiative demonstrates that it is possible to make fashion greener and reduce its impact on the planet, especially when brands work together to make a difference. Signatory brands committed to transforming the British fashion industry, including Asos, Primark and AllSaints, have managed to reduce the carbon impact of the textiles they produce by 12% and the impact of water use by 4% per ton between 2019 and 2022. This has been achieved through more sustainable design and greater use of recycled materials and clothing.
WRAP reports that brands are increasingly using recycled polyester and polyamides to limit the use of virgin materials, that is, materials that have never been used or processed. The report also notes that a significant proportion of the cotton used by the signatories (71%) comes from “improved sources”, validated by programs and initiatives that work towards sustainability. While these efforts have significantly reduced the carbon impact of their clothing, they do not appear to be enough in the face of overproduction and overconsumption.
A major issue is that all measures taken by affected brands and retailers have been nullified by the 13% increase in the volume of textiles produced and sold since 2019. Regarding water consumption per ton, the report states that The reduction achieved thanks to the efforts made has been canceled by the increase in garments produced and sold. Worse still, overproduction has actually generated an 8% increase in water consumption, equivalent to 3.1 billion cubic meters. And the same goes for carbon emissions, whose reduction was attenuated by the increase in clothing production, reaching -2% (compared to the initial -12%).
“Textiles and fashion are responsible for up to 10% of global carbon emissions. We can see from the impact of Textiles 2030 that it is possible to change this. But as soon as positive improvements occur, they are canceled out by the increase in We hope to get closer to meeting the critical goals of the Paris Agreement, we need to take textiles seriously and everyone has a role to play. We need sustainable design, sustainable business models and more sustainable ways to buy and wear clothes from more companies. “But production is clearly the key issue…” warns Catherine David, director of Behavior Change and Business Programs at WRAP, quoted in the study’s press release.
Action at all levels
To avoid producing more and more, WRAP encourages companies to create garments that last over time, that is; of higher quality and greater durability, while focusing on recycled materials, and recommends developing clothing rental and repair services. However, the NGO specialized in climate action points out that the consumer also has a role to play. “We are working with companies to improve clothing, but the other part of the equation is our role as buyers. We buy more clothing than any other country in Europe. Our research shows that a quarter of most wardrobes are unused in a year and Almost a quarter of us admit that we only wear clothes a few times,” says Catherine David.
While this report is based solely on the UK, overproduction and overconsumption in the fashion industry is a global phenomenon. A survey released by the French Agency for the Environment and Energy Management (ADEME) confirms that consumers of all nationalities admit to buying much more than they need, whether they live in China (60%), Germany (50% ) or Italy (50%). . In Europe, every year 4 million tonnes of textiles end up in rubbish or are sold second-hand, demonstrating the importance of acting on an international scale.
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