MPs investigate fast fashion climate crisis

Waste: In the UK alone, 300,000 tonnes of clothes are sent to landfill every year.

Is it wrong to buy a £2 T-shirt? The government has launched a probe into the UK’s throwaway fashion culture. Millions of items are binned every year — doing great damage to the environment.

A £2 T-shirt, a £5 dress and a pair of £7 jeans. These might seem like great bargains, but low prices are hiding a huge hidden cost.

At least, that is the claim of MPs who are investigating the environmental impact of “fast fashion”.

The term refers to clothes that are produced in bulk quantities quickly and cheaply. Think high-street stores like Primark, or fashion websites like Boohoo and Misguided.

According to MP Mary Creagh, their low prices mean that consumers do not “treat [clothing] with any respect and at the end of its life it’s going to go in the bin.”

Indeed, this is the fate for a staggering number of clothes. Last year, people in Britain sent 235 million items to landfill. Across the world, one truckload of clothing is wasted every second.

This, in turn, only fuels more consumption. On average, people in Britain buy 26.7 kilograms of new clothes per year, the highest of all European countries.

The industries that fuel this throwaway culture are a key driver of climate change.

In 2015, the global fashion industry emitted 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions. Producing raw materials like cotton, manufacturing the items, and stock transportation add up to a big carbon footprint — in fact, only oil companies produce more pollution.

Is it wrong to buy a T-shirt for £2?

Threadbare

Definitely, some argue. By supporting fast fashion with your wallet, you are supporting environmental destruction and worker exploitation. Buying longer-lasting items instead may even save you money in the long run. We must end Britain’s fast-fashion culture.

No, others respond. Cheap clothes are essential for people on a budget, and we should not judge people negatively who need to save money. Ultimately, it is the companies who should be forced to make clothes in a sustainable way.

You Decide

  1. Is it wrong to buy a T-shirt for £2?

Activities

  1. Think about all the clothes you currently own. As a percentage, how many of these items do you no longer wear? Discuss with your classmates. Did you come up with similar percentages? Think of some ways in which you could dispose of your unwanted clothes in a sustainable way.

Some People Say...

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”

Robert Swan

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
In the UK, people spend £52.7 billion on fashion every year. The amount of items bought has risen in recent years, from 950,000 tonnes in 2012 to 1.13 million in 2016.
What do we not know?
Exactly what the future holds for the fashion industry. One study expects the sector’s emissions to rise by 60% by 2030, and to expend one quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.

Word Watch

Primark
A spokesperson for the brand insisted that its low prices are a result of spending little on advertising and tight margins. “It's our business model that takes us to a £2 T-shirt," said Paul Lister.
Mary Creagh
Head of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), which is leading the investigation into fast fashion.
235 million
According to a survey commissioned by the supermarket Sainsbury’s.
1.2 billion tonnes
According to the report, “A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future,” by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

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