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World Environment Day fashion

Model twins Brett and Scott Staniland explain why we can’t buy our way out of the climate crisis
with imported textile waste in Kantamanto Market, Accra

Main image: Brett with imported textile waste in Kantamanto Market, Accra. Photo credit Luke Alland

This article first appeared in our World Environment Day Day 2023 issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 05 June 2023. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

In the fashion world, World Environment Day presents another opportunity for brands to get in on the action of pretending to care about the planet, and pushing the latest brand of greenwashing consumerism.

Want to subscribe to a healthy pinch of environmental activism? Buy our new green T-shirt!

‘Buy something and save the planet’ is probably the laziest type of greenwash marketing – but unfortunately, it tends to work.

People can get rid of a bit of the guilt surrounding their typical habits by offsetting it with a once-a-year purchase of something ‘better’.

We absolutely cannot buy ourselves out of the fashion climate crisis. How many ‘sustainable’ T-shirts do we really need? We don’t like to promote consumption, but if you have decided that you’d like to buy something better, a trustworthy place to start would be mygreenpod.com.

Fashion’s plastics problem

The theme for World Environment Day 2023 centres on beating plastic pollution. A connection people often don’t make is the plastic pollution that exists in the form of poly-based clothing.

The fashion industry relies on the oil industry for plastic, which it spins into impossibly cheap clothing that’s in many cases worn just a handful of times before inevitably ending up in landfill.

Almost 65% of our clothing is made from synthetic fibres like polyester.

Textiles account for 15% of plastics production which, behind the packaging and construction industries, makes it the third-most polluting sector from a plastics perspective.

This means the plastic pollution problem is very much a fashion problem, too.

There’s a chance unwanted clothes may reach a charity shop, be returned to the brand’s online store or even be deposited into a clothes bank.

Ah, good deed done! Perhaps not. Not one of these options guarantees the item of clothing will be diverted from landfill.

Waste Colonialism

Charity shops are notoriously overwhelmed with fashion, and today’s low quality of clothing and fabric means many donations are unwanted.

The clothes could instead reach secondhand markets in other areas of the world, such as Kantamanto in Accra, Ghana.

In the past, when good-quality preloved clothing had plenty of life left, it helped communities like this to thrive.

But now that fashion is dominated by poly-based clothing, and the cycles of fast fashion are getting quicker, the quality has dropped so much that the clothes have no value in these communities.

In fact, it’s more realistic to say that these communities are now being used as a waste-management strategy.

Imagine swapping a designer cotton shirt for oil-based fast fashion. The outcome is that communities are having to deal with our clothing at the end of its life, which means piling up landfill, destroying land and biodiversity, polluting air and water sources and causing fires. It is known as Waste Colonialism.

The Or Foundation in Ghana has facilitated the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and Stop Waste Colonialism campaign, to provide the Kantamanto community with the resources they deserve so they can adequately manage this dumping of waste into the ecosystems.

Beating plastic pollution

Plastic clothing sheds microfibres, which have been found in everything from drinking water to human blood.

When plastic clothing is dumped into communities that don’t have sufficient resources, it puts people and the planet at risk.

You can learn more and help support the EPR via The Or Foundation’s website and endorse the position paper at StopWasteColonialism.org.

Another way to beat plastic pollution is to switch to a circular textile economy, which brings us back to the initial point: stop buying new things to subscribe to good environmental causes, and change your habits instead.

Next time you find yourself in a store shopping or going through your current wardrobe, have a look at the fabric composition, see how much plastic is in your wardrobe and rethink what plastic pollution actually looks like.

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