Fashion industry set to consume quarter of global carbon budget

28th November 2017

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Nathan Cloney

A quarter of the carbon budget needed to limit global temperature increases to 2˚C will be consumed by the textile industry by 2050 if current trends continue.

That is according to a report launched today by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which reveals how the “hugely wasteful” industry generates 1.2 tonnes of CO2 a year.

That is more than international flights and maritime shipping combined, while less than 1% of the material used to produce clothing is recycled for new clothing.

In addition, under a business-as-usual scenario, the amount of non-renewable resources used by the industry, such as oil, will likely treble from 98 million tonnes in 2015 to 300 million by midway of this century.

Speaking ahead of the report’s launch, Dame Ellen MacArthur, said: “Today’s textile industry is built on an outdated linear, take-make-dispose model and is hugely wasteful and polluting.”

Clothing production has doubled in the last 15 years, largely driven by the ‘fast fashion’ phenomenon of increasingly varying styles bought by a growing middle-class population.

More than half of this type of fashion is disposed of within a year of production, with customers worldwide estimated to miss out on $460bn (£348bn) of value annually by throwing away clothes they could continue to wear.

In addition, 20% of industrial water pollution globally is attributable to the dyeing and treatment of textiles, with the industry identified as a major contributor to the issue of plastic entering the ocean.

The report calls for the adoption of circular economy principles, so that clothes, fabric and fibres are kept at their highest value during use, and re-enter the economy after use, without ending up as waste.

It suggests four actions to be taken: the phase out of substances of concern and microfibre release, increasing clothing utilisation, radically improving recycling, and a move to renewable materials.

Fashion designer Stella McCartney provided her backing for the report by saying it presents a “roadmap” to create a better environment while providing solutions to an “incredibly wasteful” industry.

“It opens up the conversation that will allow us to find a way to work together to better our industry, for the future of fashion and for the future of the planet,” she added.

The report has also received the support of industry leaders such as H&M and Nike, along with various charities, NGOs and politicians.


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