Over the past few years there has been a growing demand for governments, businesses and citizens alike to focus on the climate crises. For example, Extinction Rebellion mobilised the UK Government to declare a climate emergency. The world is finally waking up to the fact that immediate action is needed. Greta Thunberg has also been a huge catalyst in awakening the general public as she started a global movement by starting a protest on Fridays. I should, of course, also mention our favourite documentary main man David Attenborough, who has made many, many documentaries on the issues we are facing and what we are doing to the planet.
The Industrial Revolution, in my eyes, is where it all started to go very wrong and the start of climate change, as we have been burning fossil fuels, releasing greenhouse gasses and CO2 trapping heat within our atmosphere and thus overheating the planet. This over-heating is climate change and has widespread impacts across the globe. It leads to an increase in crop vulnerability and extensive biodiversity (plants, animals and habitats) loss, which impacts on human life and access to clean water. The world in now 1 degree c above the temperature it was when the industrial revolution began. To prevent the worst effects of climate breakdown, passing the point of no return, we need to keep the rise below 2 degree c, with the aim of only 1.5 degree c. This aligns with the Paris Agreement and SDGs.
The fashion industry is responsible for 2% – 3% of global Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. 63% of our clothes are made from synthetic fibres: polyester, acrylic and nylon. These plastics are made from fossil fuels, 342 million barrels of oil every year. Not only that, but the production process of turning fossil fuels into textiles for clothes releases significant amounts of GHGs. Wait, there is more, this all uses 93 billion cubic meters of water annually. That is 4% of our annual global water usage of fresh water. Global consumption of clothes will double by 2030, as developing countries will become medium developed and thus more people will have expendable money and more choices.
Deforestation caused as a result of growing crops, or for grazing cattle for leather, or using the wood for viscose, decreases biodiversity and erases natural habitat for species and people who rely on it. 150 million trees are logged every year for the pulp to make viscose and obviously this is particularly damaging to the environment.
We all know that plants and trees capture co2 by absorbing and storing it. So, by destroying habitats we are removing our key weapons that slow down climate change.
How can we help?
In terms of fashion:
If we double the amount of times we wear a garment and, when possible, wash them less often, on average, the GHG emissions would be 44% lower per garment. ‘The most sustainable clothes are the ones you already own.’ Ellen MacArthur Foundation – 2017.
If/when you need to buy clothes – research whether they have any certifications and how sustainable they are This will be on their website – if you can’t find anything or not enough information, ask them (I will go into this in more detail later). Look for natural and recycled materials with environmental certifications, and packaging There are a fair few, but I think those listed below will be most useful:
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
- Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
- Leather Working Group (LWG)
GOTs – One of the most trustworthy and holistic certifications. All textiles must be at least 70% and certifies organic natural fibres. Not only about textiles meeting a set of environmental standards but also social criteria in accordance with the International Labour Organisation.
FSC – timber being used is from an FSC – a certified forest that meets their standards along the entire supply chain.
LWG – based on how their production processes affect the environment.
As a consumer and citizen of your community, your voice and the everyday actions you take can be powerful drivers of positive change. If fashion brands see the demand for sustainably sourced cotton and recycled materials increase, then they will source more of what we want. Let’s stop the supply and demand and turn it into demand and supply. We are the ones spending our hard-earned money, don’t let them dictate to us as to what options we have.
Most damage happens at the beginning of the chain of textiles, this is where brands and consumers typically don’t have visibility. As consumers we need to encourage the brands from whom we buy to have a transparent supply chain, so we can hold them accountable for their environmental policies and impacts.
Carbon footprint of clothing in the UK was 26.2 million tonnes of carbon emissions in 2016. To put that in perspective – a car releases 4.6 tonnes per year on average. The UK clothing industry emits as much as driving 5.8 million cars a year.
In the UK we purchase 1.13 million tonnes of clothes every year. That is the weight of more than 6,500 jumbo jets.
Think: Better made, easier to care for, do you really need it, will you love it, or, could you get something second hand instead? The latter is the most environmentally friendly way of buying clothes.
If you find you have to buy new you should also consider: fabric, quality of garment, how many times will it make it through the washing machine before it looks tired/old and whether you’re likely to wear it a lot. Don’t buy clothes that are flimsy and have poor stitching – they just won’t last. Do you love it enough to mend it (sew on a button or darn a hole), could you pass on to friends or family? For more tips – https://www.loveyourclothes.org.uk/.
On average, clothes last 3.3 years before they are discarded. If we extend that life, we save carbon, water and waste. Extending the lives of clothes by 9 months reduces carbon, water and waste footprints by 20%-30% each.
Remember: When you have fallen out of love with an item of clothing, part with it mindfully. Donate, swap or pass it on. If the item is unsalvageable, recycle the textile material – it could be used as padding for chairs, cleaning rags, industrial blankets or if you don’t want to upcycle, take it to a textile bin. This website lets you enter in your postcode and tells you where your nearest bins are: https://www.recyclenow.com/what-to-do-with/clothing-textiles-0. This is so important as each year in the UK it is estimated that 300,000 tonnes of clothing goes to landfill. 80% of all clothes worldwide end up in landfill or are incinerated.
Caring for your clothes
Clothes is the fourth biggest environmental impact in the UK after housing, transport and food.
We significantly impact the environment by the way we use our clothes, wash and dry them and then how we dispose of them once we are finished with them.
The temperature in which we wash our clothes; how often and the detergent we use (have chemicals which then enter the watercourse). All this contributes to the level of energy and water consumption and water pollution that ends up in the ocean (fish eating microplastics = we end up eating microplastics). Tumble dryers use large amounts of energy and releases carbon emissions, as well as damaging the clothes by harming the fibres.
Caring for the clothes we own is a vital action we can and must take. Washing clothes has an impact on the climate, so how we wash and care for our clothes has an important and positive impact on climate change. How, you ask… as an example, the UK has reduced washing temperatures down to 30 degrees c, reduced using tumble dryers and are ironing less frequently since 2012 due to campaigns and this has reduced our carbon footprint by 3%.
Research has shown that every time we wash our clothes (synthetic ones) – up to 700,000 microplastic (tiny pieces of plastic that are less than 5mm in length) fibres can come off in each wash – too small to be caught by conventional water treatments – and are being washed into our water systems and ends up in rivers, lakes and oceans.
Due to the tiny microplastics being eaten by marine animals, it means that they end up in our food. Once the marine animals and in turn, us, have ingested them over time, they can cause blockages, physical injury, changes to the oxygen levels in cells in the body and can alter behaviour and reduced energy levels and can impact growth and reproduction and the balance of the ecosystem can be affected. Polymers that make up microplastics contain chemical additives, such as plasticisers (a substance to improve plasticity and flexibility of a material) flame retardants and antimicrobial agents (a chemical that kills or stops growth of microorganisms like bacteria) which can leach out of the plastic into the environment.
Methods can be used on synthetic material which will reduce the release of microplastics from our clothes. Brushing, laser, ultrasound cutting, material coatings and prewashing fabrics. But, due to the amount of synthetic clothing that is produced and used, it is unlikely fashion brands will immediately swap plastic based materials. Therefore, there needs to be a focus on the fashion industry to develop new, high performing materials that will allow plastic based materials to be phased out. Failing this, we as consumers are informed and thus buy better.
This is not going to be an overnight change so improving washing machine filters to capture microplastics needs to be standard and should be a government legislation, but only one country has done this so far. In February 2020 France took a legislative step to fight against microplastic pollution. By January 2025, all new washing machines in France will have to include a filter to stop microplastics from polluting our waterways.
Cora Ball is a great interim solution
I was so happy when I found out about this product, it is a ball that you pop in your washing machine with clothes and it collects and turns the microfibres into a fuzz we can see, as well as collecting pet hair (stray tissues lurking in a trouser pocket). It looks a bit like a pretty Christmas tree bauble. The creator turned to nature for inspiration and Coral was exactly what they needed, as it catches tiny things floating in water. It is made up of 100% recycled material and recyclable. It is made of soft and stretchy plastic that will maintain its physical and chemical properties in the temperatures used in residential and commercial washers and tumble dryers. It has been designed to last for years and years. It shouldn’t damage your clothes, but best to put delicate clothes – with fraying edges, large knits, tassels or lace in a wide mesh bag to protect them from potential damage.
It by no means solves the problem, but it is a great help at this moment in time. I felt so strongly about it that I decided we must stock some NOW to help tackle the issue. Click here to get your own Cora Ball to save the fishes eating microplastic!
Henri is the CEO and founder of You Do You Eco.
I decided to start You Do You Eco after seeing what plastic is doing to the environment and our wildlife. I remember crying after reading something and I knew I had to make a change. As humans we have done so much damage and the new status quo of the throwaway society was something I knew I needed to tackle.
The concept came to me one random Saturday night in August 2019 – I was watching Fantastic Beasts (having had a glass or two of prosecco) and it was just a light bulb moment. I really did feel like Alice falling down a rabbit hole with all the options, and I wanted to make it easier for people to be eco so together we can help the environment.