For decades, the fashion industry has been built on a ‘take-make-dispose’ model. According to The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a charity that works with businesses, communities and the UK government to improve resource efficiency, around 300,000 tonnes of clothing ends up in household bins every year, with around 20% of this going to landfill and 80% being incinerated.

A report published by Oxfam in September 2019 found that 53 per cent of British adults are unaware of how environmentally destructive the fast fashion industry is. Consumption of new clothing is estimated to be higher in the UK than in any other European country, at around 26.7kg per capita per year. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity and global thought leader on circular economy, “if the fashion industry continues on its current path, by 2050 it could use more than 26% of the carbon budget associated with a 2 degree centigrade global warming limit”.

Moving away from this current linear model, which causes considerable waste of textiles, is therefore crucial, and some pioneers are leading the way. Italian company Econyl uses synthetic waste such as industrial plastic, waste fabric and fishing nets from oceans to create their products, by recycling and regenerating them into a nylon yarn that is exactly the same quality as virgin nylon. Surf champion Kelly Slater’s label Outerknown and designer Stella McCartney are among the fashion brands using Econyl.

Designers in the fashion industry are also responding to the climate and ecological crisis in this way. One of the world’s biggest sportswear brands has developed a recyclable running shoe that is made from one single material and contains no glue. When the shoes are disposed of, the material is cleaned and melted down to be used in a new pair of shoes.

Other companies are attempting to move to a different type of economy altogether. In China, Y:closet, a fashion sharing platform with over 15 million users, is adopting a ‘product-as-a-service’ business model that allows people to rent clothes, including luxury brands. Consumers can select their desired clothes online, which are then shipped to them, worn and then returned and washed by Y:closet. According to the Ellen MacArthur foundation, this rental business model also encourages the production of higher quality products that are more durable and therefore more sustainable.

Positive steps towards a more eco-friendly consumption model are also taking place in the consumer goods sector. Since April 2018 there has been meaningful progress towards eliminating single-use packaging, with major supermarkets leading the charge, according to a recent study by the UK Plastics Pact, a collaborative initiative that helps businesses tackle the scourge of plastic waste. Several major supermarket chains in the UK have plastic cutlery and replaced them with wooden alternatives, while others have committed to offering loose fruit and vegetables over packaged ones.

Loop, a US-based company, is looking to help consumers move away from single-use plastic whilst buying their favourite consumer brands – anything
from Tide detergent to Colgate toothpaste and Tropicana juice. The products are packaged in a waste-free way and put in a Loop tote (a plastic- and cardboard- free box). The products are then delivered through a zero-waste system that eliminates disposable, single-use shipping materials, avoiding any cardboard boxes, bubble-wrap or ice packs. Once consumers have enjoyed their products, they place them back into the Loop tote and schedule a free pick-up. In 2020 Loop’s services will roll out in the UK where, according to HMRC, over 2 million tonnes of new plastic packaging is being produced each year.

Photo | Vladimir Morozov

Although pioneers in these industries exist, so do barriers to creating sustainable models of production. The “linear economy model is way cheaper,” says Henry le Fleming, an Environmental Performance Specialist who has been following the industry for over 20 years. “The regulatory environment is not supporting recycling and reusing and this underpins a lot of the barriers,” he adds. “We need a progressive regulatory mechanism that will help businesses and people move towards a more sustainable model.”


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