Fast fashion – cheap on the pocket but costing the earth

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 22 June 2018

MP’s are warning that fast, disposable fashion – clothes that are cheap to make, cheap to buy and quick to get rid of – is having a huge impact on the environment because their production uses toxic chemicals and washing them releases plastic particles.

Clothes Shopping
© Artem Bali

Our inquiry will look at how the fashion industry can remodel itself to be both thriving and sustainable.

Mary Creagh MP,
Chair, Commons Environmental Audit Committee,

Last year a report from waste reduction charity, WRAP, claimed about 300,000 tonnes of clothing is binned in the UK each year.

The Commons Environmental Audit Committee is set to investigate the lifecycle of ‘fast’ fashion and look at how these clothes can be recycled to reduce their negative impact by cutting down on the waste and pollution they create.

Whether you wear clothes for practicality or fashion, in the last 50 years or so, plastic synthetic materials have become a staple of the clothing industry. These shred into microfibres from the time they are made, whilst they are worn, when they’re washed and spun and then when they’re disposed of.

Committee Chair, Mary Creagh MP, said: ‘Fashion shouldn’t cost the earth. But the way we design, make and discard clothes has a huge environmental impact. Producing clothes requires toxic chemicals and produces climate-changing emissions. Every time we put on a wash, thousands of plastic fibres wash down the drain and into the oceans.

Last year a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation: ‘A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future”, suggested an estimated $500 billion is being lost every year due to clothing being barely worn and rarely recycled. The Foundations report also said If nothing changes, by 2050, the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget. It also said that washing clothes releases half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres into the ocean every year, equivalent to more than 50 billion plastic bottles.

Mary Creagh says we don’t know where or how to recycle end-of-life clothing: “Our inquiry will look at how the fashion industry can remodel itself to be both thriving and sustainable.”

MCS highlighted the issue of ‘throwaway’ clothes in its recent book ‘How to Live Plastic Free’. The charity said that although many of us now realise the minefield of trying to do a plastic-free food shop – but are happy to give it a go – most of us don’t have a clue about the amount of plastic that’s almost everywhere in our clothes.

The book offers tips on how to detox your wardrobe of plastic from checking the labels to going retro and buying quality second-hand garments.

‘How to Live Plastic Free – a day in the life of a plastic detox’, is available to buy now.

Actions you can take

  1. Join a beach clean
  2. Join the Plastic Challenge
  3. Learn about Deposit Return Systems