In fashion, sustainability has never looked so good. The fashion industry is the second largest globally. If we can make it greener and more eco-friendly, huge gains could be made for the environment. This all begins with clothing choices. As a consumer, we can show retailers what we want: clothes that are produced in a sustainable manner, using natural materials. Currently we are buying too much, too cheaply, so-called ‘fast fashion’. Every year, an estimated £140 million worth of clothing goes to landfill in the UK, a figure that is ever growing. As clothing is increasingly being made from plastic, much of this wardrobe waste is non-biodegradable, containing synthetic plastic fibres that will persist in the environment for many years. A nylon jacket may take 40 years to degrade; plastic wellies, raincoats, spandex leggings even longer…
Worryingly, even washing our clothes can contribute to plastic pollution. Microfibres, tiny threads of fabric, are shed from clothes during washing. These fibres are so small that they slip through washing machine and water treatment filtering systems, ending up in abundance on our shorelines and waterways. Researchers at the University of California found that, on average, a synthetic fleece jacket loses 1.7g of microfibres per wash. These fibres are swallowed by aquatic animals, posing both a physical and chemical hazard. Clearly this is not good.
So how can we shop and wear clothes in a way that won’t pollute the planet?
Know your fibres
Knowing what clothes are made of can help you choose what to buy and what to wear. In general, there are two types of fibres: synthetic and natural. Synthetic fibres are man-made and will take a long time to degrade. Polyester, acrylic, lycra, and nylon are all buzz-words to look out for. They are plastic-based. Natural fibres are made from natural materials such as cotton, linen, silk, cashmere and hemp. They are usually the more sustainable choice and will decompose faster.
There is also clothing available made of recycled plastic – a greener alternative to virgin synthetic fibres. The North Face offers a line of jackets made of recycled fabrics and plastic bottles. NIKE also uses lots of recycled polyester. Swimwear brands O’Neil, Eco Swim, Speedo, and Odina Surf are even using materials such as old carpets and fishing nets to make your new beachwear!
Do I need it?
Resist the temptation of impulse buying – I mean how many tops, jackets, dresses, or swimsuits do you really need? The less clothes, the less thrown away later, and therefore less polluting plastic waste. Reduce the footprint of your fashion choices by curating your wardrobe with a choice selection of basics and favourites. Its simpler, and you can create a signature style.
Quality, not quantity
A key step is to source clothes that will last. No more flimsy fabrics and poor stitching that falls apart after a few outings – try and find clothes that are well made and easy to look after. This may mean spending a little more money for higher quality designs, but you will need to replace garments less often, so it all balances out. Do your research before purchasing clothes. Compare prices, look at retailer’s sustainability policies and the fabrics used. Find out the story behind each garment to discover the right choice for you and the environment.
Yes, you can re-cycle clothes! Around 95% of clothes that are currently thrown away could have been re-worn or re-cycled, but instead end up in landfill. Don’t let your clothes go to waste. Donate them to charity shops, or take them to clothing re-cycling points. Shops such as H&M and M&S offer garment collection in store. M&S have teamed with Oxfam in their ‘Schwopping’ campaign. Since 2008 they have collected over 20 million items in their ‘Schwop boxes’ that are then re-sold, re-used or re-cycled. Excellent stuff.
Instead of buying new clothes, why not swap with friends? Organise a swapping party – the new sociable (and free!!) way to shop. This a good way to update your clothing selection whilst also prolonging the life of your unwanted garments. Someone else’s trash could be your new treasure!
Get creative and revamp your outfits using clothing that you already have. Alter, add accessories, or combine old items in new ways. By giving your old garments a second chance, you can not only rock unique and vintage styles, but also seriously reduce waste and wardrobe clutter. If you are feeling especially creative, why not get a sewing machine and make your own clothes?
If you care, repair!
Don’t throw ‘em, mend ‘em! Patch up holes, repair tears, replace zips – what can you do to make your clothes last? If clothes no longer fit, can you alter them, for example cutting trousers into shorts, or small t-shirts into crop tops? Longer-lasting clothing = less waste. Simple.
Avoid ordering online, or minimise packaging
Buying online does make finding plastic-free clothing and shopping in general a lot easier. But the catch is that these clothes will often be delivered smothered in plastic packaging, undoing all the good work that you have done. Try and find local shops, or look at the delivery policies of companies to find stores with the least, and most eco-friendly, packaging.
Love Your Clothes
Still looking for quirky ideas and tips on how to reduce your plastic wear? The website www.loveyourclothes.org.uk, a campaign to change consumers buying, use and disposal of clothing, is the place to look. They cover everything from locations of clothes recycling points, to crafty mending and washing tips.
By Liz Heard