London tackles fast fashion waste

Londoners have saved over 750,000 items of clothing from landfill in six months, according to textile reuse charity TRAID.

TRAID collects unwanted clothes via charity shops, clothes banks and home collections, sorting the donations for sale in its 11 shops across London. Revenue from these sales goes towards a number of international projects supporting workers in the global textile industry.

The charity launched its ‘23% campaign’ in September 2018, focusing on the 23 per cent of clothing that apparently goes unworn in London (that’s equivalent to 123 million items). The campaign called on London residents to dig out those items of clothing that might be languishing in the back of a wardrobe or unloved at the bottom of a drawer, and pass them on to TRAID for reuse.

Andrea Speranza, TRAID’s Head of Campaigns, explained: “The environment is buckling under the strain of producing, consuming and disposing of cheap fast fashion. With global consumption projected to rise by 63 per cent by 2030 from 62 million tonnes today to 102 million tonnes, it’s critical we end the linear fast fashion model of take, make, dispose, repeat.

“To address this, we called on Londoners to put the clothes they no longer wear back into use. Thousands took part passing on an incredible 774,365 items of clothes so far. This simple but powerful action shows the hugely positive impacts we can have on the environment when we stop over-consuming clothes.”

As Speranza noted, the waste produced by the clothing industry is a huge problem. The global population is growing and the fashion industry is expanding to match, providing vast amounts of cheap, seasonal clothing – ‘fast fashion’. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that in the UK alone, £140 million worth of clothing goes to landfill, while the environmental impact of producing new garments is huge.

TRAID 23% campaignClothing production: More CO2 than international flights and shipping

Figures from circular economy organisation the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which launched a route map towards a circular economy for textiles in 2017, suggest that globally, textiles production produces 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) every year, more than international flights and maritime shipping combined. And according to the United Nations, should the global population reach 9.6 billion by 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.

But recognition of the problem is growing, and organisations like TRAID are taking steps to fight it through education, encouraging people to think differently about their clothing and breathe new life into unwanted items by donating them to charity. The amount of clothes saved so far, TRAID says, amounts to a carbon saving of 2,100 tonnes and a water saving of 353.6 million litres – the same amount of water produced from leaving a tap running for 67 years.

Read more: Textile collections must improve to boost clothing recycling, says WRAP

Commenting on the project, Mary Creagh MP, Chair of Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), said: “The way we design, make and discard clothes has a huge impact on the environment. TRAID’s 23% campaign calls on Londoners to put 123 million items of unworn clothes back into use. Initiatives like this one help everyone recycle their clothes – and to understand why it matters – as well as supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goal Number 12 [sustainable consumption and production].”

The EAC, which holds the government to account on its environmental policies and promises, has been conducting an inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry, gathering evidence from retailers, producers and campaigners. The inquiry concluded that a number of fashion retailers are failing to improve the sustainability of their practices, with many major businesses (including Amazon UK, Sports Direct and TK Maxx) not signed up to the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) to reduce their environmental impact.

The EAC’s report, published in February 2019, also recommended that producers should take more financial responsibility for the waste they produce, by paying a penny for every item of clothing they sell in order to better fund textile waste collection – so projects like TRAID’s could be embedded into how the fashion industry is run. 

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