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The Importance of Zero Waste Fashion

Posted by Pawan Saunya on

In the last few years we have seen an accelerated backlash against single use plastic like plastic straws and takeaway coffee cups, causing change to happen at a rapid rate. Unfortunately, not all products and industries have been so responsive to the call for sustainability. As the second most polluting industry, the fashion industry is lagging behind almost all others.

A report published in 2017 by Dame Ellen MacArthur’s foundation detailed the emission intensity of the industry, revealing that ‘if the (fashion) industry continues on its current path, by 2050 it could use more than 26% of the carbon budget associated with a *2C pathway’. In 2015, global greenhouse gas emissions from textile production totaled 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent, according to a report by the industry-led Circular Fibres Initiative. This is larger than that of international flights and shipping combined. Not only is the industry emission intensive, the waste created by the sector is astronomical, with UK households alone binning 300,000 tonnes of clothing each year.

Irresponsible consumer behaviors can lead to the terrible impacts of the fashion industry. In December 2018, shoppers spent approximately £3.5 billion specifically on Christmas party clothing. 8 million of the items bought went into the landfill after just one wear. Not only is this incredibly wasteful, but it is also a massive contributing factor to the carbon emissions produced by the fashion industry. The higher the rate of shopping, the higher the rate of production, meaning the higher the rate of emissions.

This is where the importance of zero waste fashion comes in. Zero waste fashion refers to items of clothing that produce little or no waste throughout their life time and results in fewer emissions. It can be split into two parts: pre and post-consumer zero waste fashion. Pre-consumer zero waste fashion eliminates waste during manufacturing. For example, the fabric that is discarded during the cutting process is recovered for reuse, resulting in less raw resources needed, thus less emissions are emitted. Post-consumer zero waste fashion eliminates waste at what would normally be the end of the garment’s use as a product. This reduces the landfill contribution of the industry, reducing potential related methane emissions. This is what I want to focus on more closely, as it is something we can all contribute to. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, it is great that products such as single use plastic and takeaway cups have gotten such bad press, but why hasn’t the same happened for fast fashion? The change towards sustainable fashion has to happen faster and we all need to do more to help. By shopping less and in a more mindful manner, we can all help reduce the environmental impact of the industry and bring attention to sustainable fashion.

So, what can you do?

  1. Buy less- One tip I would give is when you go to buy an item, think- how many times do you really think you will wear that? Do you really need it? When you go shopping write a list of things you absolutely need. This will focus your mind and will keep you from being distracted by unnecessary items. 

  2. Change where you’re buying- Charity shops are a fundamental part in creating a circular economy within the fashion industry. Because they sell used clothes, you’re gaining a new item of clothing without contributing to the environmental impact of our current clothing industry. 

  3. Buy clothes made from renewable materials- More and more companies are making products from recycled materials, such as ocean plastic. Although in many cases they are more expensive, they will be good quality, last longer, and have a lower environmental impact compared to typical fast fashion clothing. Check out Adidas trainers made from ocean plastic.

  4. Swap clothes with friends- I have a friend who told me how she had organised an evening with a group of friends where everyone had to bring three items of clothing that they were willing to trade. They all exchanged clothes, and everyone left with new items. Swapping clothes lets you and your friends get new clothing without buying anything, all while giving away clothes you didn’t want anymore. It’s a win all around!

  5. Rent or borrow clothes- Clothing rental companies are growing. These are a great way to be able to wear a different outfit whenever you want at a lower environmental cost. You can also just borrow from friends!

Don’t get me wrong- I know how hard it can be to resist the temptation of buying new clothes. However, if we were all a bit more conscious of where our clothing comes from and tried a little harder to source it from charity and second hand shops, the environmental impact of the fashion industry would dramatically drop.

* The “2C Pathway” tells how much carbon we can use to put us on track to stop global warming to 2 degrees Celsius of warming.


Poppy Robson

Is working as an intern for Zero Waste Club, bringing together her love of the environment and her passion for writing. She has a love of nature and the outdoors and is always looking to encourage more people to lead a zero waste life. You can find her on Instagram as @poppyrobson.


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