Throwaway fashion – and why our government must do more

How much do we really know about the impact of our clothes?

From production to consumption, the fashion industry has a massive impact on the world around us and sustainability is a key issue that keeps cropping up.

Quite rightly, there are concerns for the treatment of garment factory workers – whether they’re paid minimum wage, treated fairly, and in the right working conditions.

But there are also concerns for the environment. As one of the most polluting industries, there are problems surrounding fashion from the waste streams caused by textile production to the microplastics in our fabrics.

Water consumption is also a huge problem – but we often forget about it.The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) says that one kilogram of cotton fabric can use as much as 10,000 to 20,000 litres of water to produce.

So, why, when we know about all these problems, are we so reluctant to start doing anything about it?

I’m a fan of fashion. I love buying new clothes and trying new styles.

But I also keep items for years – styling them in new ways and giving them away to charity when I’ve really had enough of them. Sometimes, clothes actually wear down because I’ve had them so long. Where they can’t be donated, I rip up old t-shirts to use as dusters (thanks for that tip Mum!) I don’t think I’ve ever bought something and thrown it away after one use…

But when it comes to making change, I’m not talking about the average consumer anymore. I’ve reached a point with environmentalism where I’m fed up that all the responsibility is being put on the shoulders of the average person – many of whom might think about the environment, but as a second thought rather than a guiding principle.

I’m talking about politicians and businesses.

Today, a set of proposals put forth by MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee were rejected by ministers.

These proposals were the result of a report by the EAC into how we can tackle the problem of fast fashion, and make the industry more sustainable…

Here are a few facts.

In Britain we buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe.

Greenpeace say that 73% of textile fibres used to produce more than 100 billion garments each year end up in landfill or incinerators after they have been used.

The figures are shocking.

But so was the reaction from government today. The proposals put forward by the EAC weren’t even that strict.

In summary, they suggested a one pence charge on every item of clothing sold to raise investment for textile recycling; banning the incineration of unsold stock or sending it to landfill; mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36m; and a more proactive approach to enforcing the national minimum wage to avoid exploitation of textile workers. There was also a suggestion that fashion companies be rewarded or penalised depending on the environmental impact of their products.

The government’s answer?

To reject every single proposal because they claim they are already working with the industry and believe that initiatives should, and would, come from them. To put it simply, they want the changes to come direct from the industry and merely be supported ‘where appropriate’ from government.

What a joke.

In response, the committee chairwoman Mary Creagh was quoted on Sky News as having said:

“Fashion producers should be forced to clear up the mountains of waste they create.

“The government has rejected our call, demonstrating that it is content to tolerate practices that trash the environment and exploit workers despite having just committed to net zero emission targets.

“The government is out of step with the public who are shocked by the fact that we are sending 300,000 tonnes of clothes a year to incineration or landfill.

“Ministers have failed to recognise that urgent action must be taken to change the fast fashion business model which produces cheap clothes that cost the earth.”

I cannot explain how mad the news today made me.

Just a week ago, Theresa May committed the UK to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. While some may criticise that it’s not soon enough, to me, it showed a clear message. Finally, they are taking the environment seriously.

So what happened today?!

Personally, I feel as though the government is just saying what a lot of us want to hear. Making pledges and stressing it’s support for the environment without actually committing to serious, hardline action which is so desperately needed.

In my opinion, we should be implementing a green tax, and holding businesses that operate in the UK to account for the impact they are having on the environment.

Instead it feels like there’s just a lot of green-washing going on…

Last year I watched ‘Fashion’s Dirty Secrets’ presented by Stacy Dooley. It made a lot of sit up and listen – shocked by the extent of how the fashion industry is damaging our environment. But, as a consumer, it’s hard to know what we can do about it.

Well, change can and should happen – but we need the government to enforce that change on the people manufacturing and selling these items.

After debating it for a few weeks, the news today encouraged me to finally sign up to Future Learn’s free online course about the future of fashion and the Sustainable Development Goals.

I’m hoping that, by arming myself with more knowledge, I’ll be able to back the businesses doing the right thing, and help share messages from those lobbying the government to take firm action – rather than simply politely encouraging industry to be a little more eco-friendly (please).

I’ll be sure to share anything interesting that I learn but in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you on any UK brands that are sustainably sourced and environmentally conscious (and if possible, won’t cost a whole month’s salary…)

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