Menu Menu

Fashion’s efforts to go green are being negated by overproduction

WRAP’s 2030 Annual Progress Report says a 12 per cent reduction in the carbon impact of clothing has been cancelled out by a 13 per cent increase in the volume of textiles produced and sold.

The planet is, quite literally, drowning in clothes. Through recycling programmes have existed for decades now, of the 100 billion garments bought annually, 92 million tonnes of them get thrown out.

By 2030, that figure is expected to increase by over forty million as production continues to surge (it actually doubled between 2000 and 2014) and with the average consumer purchasing 60 per cent more clothes annually but keeping them for half as long as they did 15 years ago.

It’s an environmental and social disaster that shows no signs of abating – despite Cop27 and the latest IPCC report urging the industry to change its ways – due to the US’, China’s, and Great Britain’s insatiable appetite for exporting used material to keep up with ever-evolving trends.

Even more concerning, however, is the fact that regardless of fashion’s albeit feeble efforts to confront this, we’re still nowhere near a turning point.

This is because, as revealed by WRAP’s 2030 Annual Progress Report, the industry’s push to reduce the carbon impact of the garments it sells is being undermined by an ongoing addiction to buying new clothes.

It found that, while brands signed up to its voluntary agreement had successfully cut both the carbon intensity and volume of water per tonne used in their clothing manufacture by 12 per cent, the volume of textiles made and sold during the same period had risen by 13 per cent, negating these improvements.

Published yesterday, the increased rates meant overall water use actually rose by 8 per cent, while the carbon reduction figure stood at just 2 per cent, prompting the climate action NGO to warn of hard-won gains being ‘cancelled out’ by this ‘upward spiral’ in production.

‘Textiles and fashion are responsible for up to 10% of global carbon emissions,’ says Catherine David, Director of Behaviour Change and Business Programs at WRAP.

‘If we hope to get anywhere near achieving the critical goals of the Paris Agreement, we must get serious about textiles and everyone has a role to play. We need sustainable design, sustainable business models, and more sustainable ways of buying and using clothes from more businesses. But production is clearly the key issue.’

To avoid producing more and more, WRAP is encouraging companies to design clothes for a longer life – with higher quality and greater durability – while focusing on recycled materials.

It additionally recommends developing clothing rental and repair services and points out that the consumer also has a role to play.

‘We’re working with companies to improve clothes, but the other part of the equation is our role as shoppers,’ she finishes. ‘We buy more clothes than any other nation in Europe. Our research shows that a quarter of most wardrobes go unworn in a year and nearly a quarter of us admit to wearing clothes only a few times.’