How is overconsumption fueling fashion waste? - A Shift

How is overconsumption fueling fashion waste?

Posted in Thoughts — 25. November 2021 — Written by Sadaf

Overconsumption is when the use of a natural resource, such as soil, minerals, and water has exceeded its capacity. This can lead to collapsing ecosystems, ruining habitats, and endangering the survival of species. Due to the rise of fast fashion, and constantly changing trends, our consumption pattern has negatively transformed from what we need to what we want. We want to look at how overconsumption has fueled fashion waste.

Each year, more than 100 billion garments are made, and compared to 20 years ago, it has increased by 400%. Companies are overproducing, and we are buying more than we need. This makes clothes lose their value to us that some even consider clothes as disposable products. The need to overconsume has fueled a waste problem in fashion.

How does overconsumption impact the environment?

The numbers say it all! Of all the garments purchased and worn by consumers, 87% go to landfills or are incinerated. Only 1% of textile waste is currently being recycled into new clothing. Recently on social media, we have seen at least 39,000 tonnes of discarded clothes in Chile’s Atacama, the driest desert in the world. The items found are largely the result of the fast fashion industry. But the major problem is that clothes are not biodegradable and have chemical products. So they are not accepted in municipal landfills. On landfill sites, clothing waste emits CO2 emissions. The fashion industry is responsible for 2.1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions each year. While it could reduce its CO2 emissions by 158 million tonnes by stopping overproduction over the next decade.

Let’s look at the different types of textile waste generated within the fashion industry. Here we distinguish between pre-consumer and post-consumer waste.

Pre-consumer Waste: Deadstock

One type of pre-consumer waste is deadstock. It refers to the seasonal clothing lines that haven’t been sold in shops. New designs are constantly in development and with each design comes a sample. Oftentimes, designers are encouraged to buy more in order to get price breaks on fabric. Though this may also be greater than what they actually need for a production run. When an item is “out of fashion”, brands accumulate deadstock very quickly. Often, stores will have stockrooms piled high from last season’s collections and these clothes are then sent to landfills or are incinerated since brands don’t want the clothes to be copied or lose their value.

Post-consumer Waste: Donation

When it comes to post-consumer waste, we are the ones responsible. It’s the clothes we might throw away or put in donation bins. For a long time, it was believed that donating clothes was a solution for giving them another purpose. And in a sense, it eases our minds about buying more than we need. Unfortunately, it leads to more clothing waste and strengthens the belief that it’s ok to shop more than necessary. But why does donating not help in every case?

Today’s clothes are often made from cheap fabric and cannot be resold or be used for recycling. So, they are usually sent overseas, where they often pollute the environment there. Synthetic fibres for instance need up to 200 years to decompose and release toxic substances in the process, which gets into surrounding air and soil.  

How can we make a positive impact as consumers?

We all probably know the saying: The most sustainable garment is the one that you already have. Well, it’s true, although we do not usually see it that way! Wearing and using the clothes we have is a great way to save energy and resources. Also great for your wallet! This being said, there are also other ways to have fun with our clothes for a longer time and avoid wasting them. You can get creative with your clothes or swap them with friends and family! One of the best ways to contribute to a more sustainable fashion industry and less clothing waste is by making smart and conscious shopping choices and considering how we buy. A simple trick is to ask ourselves if we really need a certain clothing item and if we are going to wear it more than 30 times.

At the end of the day, we can reduce overconsumption through our shopping decisions and simultaneously impact the waste problem in fashion.

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