Australians are the world’s second-largest consumers of textiles, buying an average of 27kg of new clothing and other materials each year. Disturbingly, the average Australian throws away 23kg of textiles each year. More than 500,000 tonnes of fabrics and leather are in landfills each year.
At this rate, Australians are on track to produce enough textile waste to cover the surface of Australia by the year 2030.
If we look at the wardrobe of the average Australian woman, she wears only 40 % of what’s in her wardrobe, which means that 60 % is just sitting there.
Effects of fast fashion
The effects of buying fast fashion are many. The fashion industry produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions and is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply. According to WWF, approximately half of all textiles are made of cotton. It takes more than 20,000 litres of water to produce just one kilogram of cotton, roughly equal to one T-shirt and a pair of jeans.
1. Fast fashion effects the environment
Tonnes of cheap clothing are churned out from developing countries every year. Natural resources are being polluted. Toxic fumes and chemicals are being thrown into waterways. Waterways are said to turn the colour of the latest fashion, leaving water unfit for human or animal consumption. Habitats are permanently damaged.
The materials used for most of this fast fashion are often synthetic and non-biodegradable. The fabric releases micro-fibres into our precious water catchments and oceans when washed. Nowadays, it is commonplace for fish to be found full of microplastics.
2. Fast fashion effects women
Oxfam research shows that many women are enslaved to work in factories that produce cheap clothing for us. Most workers are women aged 18 – 25, making up 80% of the factory workers in the global garment industry.
The local minimum wage in Bangladesh equates to just 39 Australian cents an hour. In Vietnam, it is just 64 cents; in China, it is 93 cents. Women cannot live on this wage. Our addiction to fashion keeps women in economic slavery.
3. Fast fashion effects landfill
Mother Earth is being filled with our rubbish. 75% of Australian shoppers throw away whatever they’ve bought within the year they’ve bought them, and 30% throw away more than ten articles of clothing. If they are thrown in the trash, they are swept up and buried in the earth.
And if they are donated, many of the items are in landfills. Even the small percentage of clothes donated to charity, the ones with tiny marks or loose threads, are immediately added to the landfill pile. This information can make you feel eco-anxiety. Read more here on how you can support yourself .
Eco-anxiety is an emerging condition. Named in 2011, the American Psychological Association recently described it as the dread and helplessness that come with “watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, children, and later generations.”
What can we do?
When looking at fashion, our waste-free ethos can be challenged. Yet, there are some great initiatives popping up. Clothes Libraries are encouraging people to rent clothes instead of purchasing them. You can wear them for an important meeting or a date, then return them. And if that’s not your thing, why not try some of these waste-free ideas?
- Many people have already donated clothes to the local charity shop. If you decide to donate your clothes, ensure they are clean and mended before you send them to the charity shops. Otherwise, you are sending them the long way to the landfill. Planet Ark has some great ideas on how to donate other objects.
- Some fashion retailers will also accept clothing donations in-store. H&M and Zara offer donation bins as part of their environmental commitment, and they accept unwanted clothes from any fashion label and in any condition. Check whether your local stores have donation bins online.
But my clothes are stained!
- This is a great way to recycle old socks and unwanted stained clothes. Upparel ensures your unwanted items have a second life through our unique reuse and recycling model and help close the loop on textile waste. We are encouraged to take responsibility for our own damaged clothing.
Creating community with clothes
Who doesn’t like a cool hand-me-down? Share your clothes with younger members of your family and friends.
- Have a swap party where you encourage your friends to swap unwanted clothing items for clothes they want.
- Declutter, hold that garage or car boot sale you were meant to have. Give them away for free on Marketplace.
- Share your clothes and your extra household items with your neighbours. Take them to a local organisation like a homeless or women’s shelter.
- Make some extra cash and sell your precious items online. There are many Marketplace options to sell your clothes or buy good quality second-hand clothes.
When you are buying new clothes
Choose carefully the clothes you buy. Look for ethical fabrics and sustainable brands. Sea Shepherd is a favourite for gifts. They sell organic hoodies to keep you warm, and profits go to saving the oceans.
- Choose natural fibres where possible. Natural fibres such as 100% cotton and wool can be placed in the compost pile.
- Buy second-hand or vintage.
- If you travel to countries in need, fill your bag with unwanted, clean and mended clothing items. Hand directly to families or charities in that country.
And when you are in doubt, even go as far as buying nothing!
If you would like to know more ways to support the Earth, read Take it personally!