Textile Waste : Hyper production: the real stumbling block for fast fashion?

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© Anna Anatol - stock.adobe.com

By 2050, the global fashion industry is expected to produce 160 million tons of clothing. The sector generates 92 million tons of textile waste annually.

Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned.

Fashion production also accounts for 10% of all carbon emissions whilst being the second largest consumer of the world’s water supply.

The introduction of zero-waste designs as well as of new sustainable fibres, made from the likes of marine plastic, has helped alleviate the situation yet these measures fail to address the elephant in the room-over production.

Each season, fashion industry over production runs at 30-40%. The rationale behind excess production is a higher profit margin yet mountains of unsold stock and textile waste serve to expose the pitfalls of this conception.

The $1,3 billion sector is tasked to adopt repair and reuse models as well as implement digitisation across the whole fashion value chain to render air and water pollution as well as excess raw material consumption moot.

Digitisation would translate into greater data transparency in the form of compulsory sustainability reports representing the environmental impact of fashion lines. These could complement national legislative efforts such as Germany’s ‘duty of care’ which require distributors to ensure the usability of goods returned by customers in the case of long-distance sales.

Virtual showrooms integrating customizable, photo-realistic content (think IKEA Place!) as well as digital solutions to capture the shape and size of the human body could help stem the flow of unused textile waste in return procedures.

Returns in online shopping currently range between 15 and 40%. Much of this is due to customer tendency of buying multiple similar items in the effort of recreating a look online, something that is often impossible to do on account of insufficient product descriptions or inaccurate photography, thereby triggering the previously mentioned returns.

So far, the industry has chosen to focus on initiatives such as C&A’s ‘Wear the Change’, Zara’s ‘join life’ and H&M’s ‘Conscious’ as well as efforts to produce sustainable fabrics from the likes of marine plastic rather than focus on addressing the problems of hyper-production. These show promise but are, as of yet, not financially viable or sustainable in the long-term whereas changes in production volume show promise of bearing immediate fruit with regards to a reduction of textile waste. At the same time, investing in repair and resale schemes for used products could help manufacturers to maintain the same level or even achieve a higher level of profitability while contributing to a circular economy.

Mandatory sustainability reports providing transparent data on production volume as well as resource use coupled with relevant legislation, such as Germany’s ‘duty of care’ which requires distributors to ensure the usability of goods returned in long distance sales could complement these actions.

Yet for this approach to take off, the support of national governments is needed. Ranging from building an appropriate recycling infrastructure to providing financial incentives for fashion resale projects, policies to be undertaken are various.

With COP26 UN Climate Change Summit being the first opportunity for world leaders to debate environmental policy since the outbreak of the pandemic, hopes are high that the conference will help tackle the impact of fast fashion on global climate change.