Throwaway Fashion, Or Fast Fashion,–a callous disregard for the cost of creating, and thus the true value of, clothing and fashion accessories–is incredibly harmful to ecosystems worldwide., and this is a harm that will last for generations if nothing is done to abate it.
By Ana Yong
Introduction – What is Throwaway Fashion?
Throwaway Fashion, also known as Fast Fashion, is the devaluation of clothes and fashion items by consumers, and the resultant disposal of these goods, regardless of their condition, once the next fashion season arrives. This practice is the result of clothing from many retailers being sold at artificially low prices, leading consumers to place less intrinsic value on them. Unfortunately, this has only fueled an increase of consumers becoming ‘slaves to fashion’. So how does throwing away your old clothes affect the environment? And what can you do about it?
How does throwaway fashion harm the Environment?
The Total Carbon Footprint of clothing worn in the United Kingdom in 2016 was 26.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent i
Note: Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) is the unit of measurement for calculating carbon footprint.
About 1 million tons of clothes are thrown out every year in the UKand “of that, 700,000 tonnes is collected for reuse and recycling with the remainder sent to landfills or incinerated, at an estimated cost of £82m.”ii Similarly, in 2013, “Americans discarded 15.1 million tons of clothing and other textiles, and 85 percent of that wound up in landfills”. iii
When waste products are buried in landfills or burnt, carbon dioxide and other toxic gases are released into the atmosphere, increasing levels of pollutants as well as greenhouse gasses, which eventually lead to global warming. And this is another reason why landfills are increasing in size every year, taking up valuable land which could be used for other more important purposes. Who could forget when Burberry set fire to £28.6m worth of unsold merchandise in 2017 so as to uphold its brand and prevent such stocks from being sold at bargain prices elsewhere? iv
Microplastic Pollution is not only in the oceans and seas
It has now been reported that Microplastic can even be found 4,500 feet up in the formerly crystal clean air of the French Pyrénées Mountains. The study also discovered “that the air over these mountains has about as much floating plastic pollution as the air over Paris or Dongguan, a large industrial city in China.” v Here, “researchers found several types of microplastic floating on the wind in the Pyrenees: fibers from clothing, and bits from plastic bags, plastic film and packaging material.” vi
According to Kevin Luo, writing for the World Economic Forum, in an article entitled “Are you breathing plastic air at home? Here’s how microplastics are polluting our lungs”, the concentration of airborne microplastics is higher in indoor air. “Microplastics in the indoor air result from the fragmentation through friction, heat or light of plastic objects found in our homes. These include toys, furniture, plastic bags, cosmetics, toothpaste and scrubs. Showering with a body scrub alone may flush 100,000 microplastic beads into the wastewater system and on into the air.” vii
Throwaway Culture now includes other material possessions
Unsold garments are not the only items targeted for destruction. In an article entitled “Slashers’ Work Ruins Shoes Discarded at a Nike Store” by Jim Dwyer, it was reported that many pairs of unsold Nike shoes had been slashed from “heel to toe” on purpose and thrown out in trash bags “outside a big Nike store in the SoHo section of Manhattan.” viii This is reminiscent of how other big, well-known brands are disposing of their unsold goods. Just because a large proportion of a certain product remains unsold does not justify its destruction.
4 Tips for Avoiding Throwaway Fashion
1. Keep track of your spending
Keep all your receipts and enter the details of your purchases into a spreadsheet which you refer to everyday. This will make you aware of how much money you are spending.
2. Stick to your budget
Decide on a budget before you head out to the shops or visit an online store, and stick to it. No matter how attractive a purchase might be, refrain from buying it if you don’t really need it.
3. Delay your spending
Follow the motto: “If it’s not a life and death situation, don’t buy it now.” The reason in delaying the purchase is to avoid what’s known as an ‘impulse buy’, giving you time to think more deeply about the purchase. If you then return to the store to get it, you can be more confident know that it’s something you really need.
4. Declutter First
If you intend to buy a big item like a sofa set, then make sure you have room for it. Don’t land yourself in the situation where you need to throw away some existing furniture to a corner just so you can display your new lounge set. Another reason is that, during the decluttering stage, you are giving yourself a cooling-off period to think through whether you really need make the purchase.
Last Word on Throwaway and Fast Fashion
We all do what we can to save the environment so if reducing our purchases can help in any way, we should make a concerted effort to do so.
For related articles on shopping by Ana Yong, please look at:
i MPs criticise high street fashion’s throwaway culture by Zoe Wood and Sarah Butler for The Guardian, updated Fri 26 Apr 2019
ii MPs criticise high street fashion’s throwaway culture by Zoe Wood and Sarah Butler for The Guardian, updated Fri 26 Apr 2019
iii Why You Should NEVER Throw Old Clothes In The Trash by David Freeman for Huffpost, updated 10 October 2016
iv Burberry to stop burning unsold items after green criticism by Julia Kollewe for The Guardian, 6 September 2018
v Microplastic Found Even In The Air In France’s Pyrenees Mountains by Christopher Joyce for National Public Radio, Inc. (US) 15 April 2019
vi Microplastic Found Even In The Air In France’s Pyrenees Mountains by Christopher Joyce for National Public Radio, Inc. (US) 15 April 2019
vii Are you breathing plastic air at home? Here’s how microplastics are polluting our lungs by Kevin Luo for World Economic Forum, 4 June 2018
viii Slashers’ Work Ruins Shoes Discarded at a Nike Store by Jim Dwyer for The New York Times, 26 January 2017