The fashion industry – world’s second largest polluter

What is done to address this?

By Archana Heenpella

The fashion industry is often known for its ingenuity and creativity; a force that’s embedded deeply in the cultural roots of our societies. Our appreciation for this form of art, however, comes at a heavy cost to the environment – the industry is now the second largest polluter in the world.

Accordingly, fashion waste contributes significantly to the industry’s performance on sustainability indexes. With over 70 million trees logged every year to produce fabrics like rayon and viscose, climate change is hot on the heels of fast fashion.

Recognising this fact, many labels have taken steps to minimise the waste arising from their operations. The Spanish brand “Ecoalf”, for instance, produces clothing made entirely of waste material – fishnets, plastic bottles, and discarded tyres are just a few to name. Sri Lanka too has its fair share of brands that are now committed to contribute to reducing the amount of waste fabric churned out every year, which is around 30,000 tonnes, according to the Institute of Manufacturing of University of Cambridge.

With garment manufacturing, one of Sri Lanka’s biggest industries accounting for almost half of our GDP, it’s not hard to imagine why all of this is necessary.

MAS, for instance, pledged that by 2025, all their waste will either be enhanced in value, or will be upcycled as raw material or as a completely new resource. Ready-to-wear brands like “House of Lonali” create collections made with upcycled fabric. “Rice and Carry” uses discarded rice bags to produce laptop sleeves, gym bags, and a number of other unique items.

Further, local fashion courses and degrees teach aspiring designers how to incorporate elements of sustainability like recycling and upcycling into their design processes. This is reflected in the rise of eco-friendly runway collections and awards every year – the latter, doled out with increasing enthusiasm.

When we spoke to AOD Fashion Design and Textiles, and Design Foundation Programme Leader Kat Scott, she noted that sustainability is naturally built into the courses at AOD fashion and said: “Having an awareness of our impact on the earth is now a requirement of any young designer entering the fashion world. The more this is part of their ‘design DNA’, the better.”

Annika Fernando, the name behind the fashion store “PR”, also commented that she was proud of local brands like “ANUK” and award-winning label “I Was a Sari”, which incorporate waste reduction practices into their work. Stating that these efforts are “relevant, important, and necessary”, she also very rightly noted that waste is not waste, until we waste it.
Concluding, she mentioned: “It’s important to ensure that we don’t import other countries’ plastic waste too into our country…I try to be more responsible about the labels we work with in-store. At PR, we are working on reducing our plastic usage and have eliminated it now in our packaging and bags. We have more work to do.”

In spite of these efforts, we’re still far from the finish line; the waste arising from our impulsive fashion purchases and capricious shifts in demand aren’t going anywhere. What would be heartening to see, here, are new approaches to old problems.

For instance, most consumers are not motivated to recycle, regardless of the long-term cost to the environment. What companies and designers can do is set up collection points where the public can drop off clothes they no longer need. Apart from this, taking a deeper look at the design process to eliminate even the minute amount of waste can make an impact.

Many international brands such as the aptly named “Zero Waste Daniel” – producer of the world’s first zero-waste fashion line – have made great strides in this area. This collection, for instance, was made with nothing more than cutting room scraps.

With Australian air quality monitor Ecotech, the Italian company “Marchi & Fildi” makes recycled and traceable yarn from pre-dyed cotton textile clippings obtained from the cutting floor of various fashion houses. These are used to create a number of eco-friendly products, from clothing to upholstery, with zero waste, zero guilt, and very little compromise in terms of design.

Moving away from fabrics like cotton and polyester could also do a world of good. Instead, experts recommend material like linen. Lightweight and durable, linen is known to be very gentle on the environment, requiring the least amount of energy, water, and pesticides to produce. While it’s certainly a little more expensive compared to other fabrics, linen lasts longer and is also very much in vogue.

Other practices now abound, including sourcing supplies from eco-friendly textile manufacturers and utilising environment-friendly practices when it comes to dying fabrics. While the former may still remain a challenge for the local industry, the latter is a practice to which more attention can be diverted to.

In this context, simply fixing a nozzle to a water hose and allowing water to flow more directly and spread dyes easily can make a difference. In addition to this, taking steps to discover less damaging dye solutions is also something that can be undertaken, especially at a time where online resources on this subject abound.

Despite exhortations to adopt more responsible practices, only industry insiders understand the practical implications of taking action. While these are by no means an easy or overnight process, what hangs in the balance far outweighs the inconvenience or cost of adopting better waste practices.

With ice caps melting, sea levels rising, and the temperature increasing at record-breaking levels, the fashion industry will have much to answer for, if left to its own devices.


Waste pic :