Recently, the ABC aired a three-part series called ‘War On Waste’ about the sheer amount of waste we produce here in Australia. The whole series is extremely eye opening and provokes a sense of urgency that we MUST do something NOW about the disposable society we have created.
Of particular interest was the final episode in the series- the War On Waste in the fashion industry.
In case you missed it, I have put together a little summary of highlights from the episode and my general thoughts.
War On Waste fast fashion facts:
- In Australia, 6000 Kilos of fashion is sent to landfill every ten minutes. That is enough to fill the MCG two and a half times.
- Australians are spending over $5 million on fashion every year.
- On average, each Australian spends over $2000 per year on clothing and footwear.
- Nearly three fifths of clothing ends up in landfill or is incinerated within a year of manufacture.
Melinda Tually, from Fashion Revolution Australia says that fast fashion is characterised by:
- High volume, low margin goods. That means producing a hell of a lot of clothing, for as cheap as possible.
- New styles arrive in store once a week.
- From factory to shop, there is about a 3-4 week turn around.
Melinda also mentions the devastating environmental effects of the fashion industry, which includes the drying up of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan. She says that the sea is now a tenth of its original size due the irrigation demands of the cotton industry and that the damage done is irreversible.
The Smith Family Textile Recycling Centre
Four self confessed shopaholic teenage girls were interviewed about their shopping habits and their answers were probably what you might expect. When asked how often they go shopping, one girl said “Twice a week. That is probably the minimum.” Another said she is always shopping online, “I love shopping so much. My go-to when I am bored is shopping,” she said as she scrolled through photos of garments on her phone.
As they wandered from shop to shop, commenting on how “cute” everything was, it was obvious that they had now connection whatsoever with the clothing that they love to shop for. They were shocked and appalled when they realised that the host had owned his shoes for about two years, cracking up laughing at such a ridiculous notion.
In order to get them to understand the ramifications of their fast fashion shopping habits, the girls were taken on a tour of the Smith Family Textile Recycling and Sorting Centre.It is here that clothing donations are processed for sale in their op shops, as well as shipped overseas.
An interview with the General Manager, Rick Mulhall, revealed these facts:
- About 13 million kilograms of unwanted clothing is processed at the centre every year.
- The top 3-4% in terms of quality goes into their own retail stores.
- 60% is exported overseas.
- 5-10% is sold and used for industrial rags.
- About 30% is no good and goes straight to landfill.
- There has been a noticeable decline in the quality of clothing coming through the plant since fast fashion took over.
- To send the clothing to landfill, it costs The Smith Family about $1 million dollars per year.
Teenage Shopping Addict Social Experiment
After this visit, the girls were challenged to abstain from shopping for one whole month, much to their dismay. One girl notes that her summer wardrobe is fine, but she has nothing to wear for winter. “Don’t you have clothes from last winter?” “I threw them out. I needed more space for my summer clothes.” All the other girls nod in agreement.
However, they did agree that seeing the recycling centre gave them motivation to at try the no shopping challenge. “If I really put my mind to it, I feel like I can wear things more than once,” said one girl.
During the shopping ban, they met with a stylist to help them discover items in their own wardrobes and how to wear them. All of the girls struggled with how to style their clothing and didn’t know how to mix and match anything. They felt that this prevents them from wearing their clothing more often.
However, wearing things more than once seemed to be a massive problem for these girls, with one girl saying “When I went out, I wore some of my old clothes. Which still looked good…but I didn’t feel as fresh as I would with a new outfit.” It turns out that the pressures of social media force them to be constantly updating their wardrobes with the latest trends.
One girl found it particularly challenging when she had a party to go to, but supposedly nothing to wear. She ended up wearing an outfit she had previously posted on social media. She was anxious that people would notice that she was wearing the same thing twice. But alas, nobody batted an eyelid.
So what did they have to say by the end of the challenge? “Learning to style things has helped heaps and I think I can, hopefully, get through the next couple of weeks without shopping.” Not very encouraging. I am not very convinced that the whole experience has sunk in and helped them to change their ways permanently.
Overall, the episode was an excellent overview of the waste problem in the fashion industry. The problem of course runs much deeper. Hopefully after seeing the program (or reading this article) some of these images and facts will sink in and consumers will start to make some changes to their fast fashion shopping habits. You can read more about waste minimisation techniques in the fashion industry here.