The Real Cost of Cheap Clothing

'Primark effect' quadruples textile waste in our council's tips

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It's not what you wear or indeed how you wear that matters; it's what you can do with it when you've finished wearing it.

'Vast' increases in the amount of cheap clothing ending up in local waste disposal sites means the proportion of textile waste has escalated from 7% to 30% in just five years.

Dubbed the 'Primark effect', a Commons environment select committee are now urging retailers to focus on producing long-lasting fashion, rather than clothes that get binned after a couple of outings.

'The whole notion of throwaway fashions needs to be re-examined,' said Tory MP Micheal Jack, who is chairman of the committee. People may want something that is fashionable, but they should also be thinking about whether what they are buying will last.'

Speaking at a gathering of representatives from the fashion, clothing, and textile industries as well as environmental and ethical groups, Minister for Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste, Joan Ruddock said, "Increasingly, consumers really care about the environment and the social impacts associated with clothing. And clothes, almost more than any other product, fill magazines and get column inches. Not only are consumers really getting their teeth into this, but fashion journalists are increasingly keeping pace with the green game.

"There are plenty of examples of people in the industry already seeing sustainability as an opportunity, not a threat. There are people taking an active role in ethical sourcing, designing and producing clothing throughout the supply chain.”

Clothing and textiles have significant environmental effects producing around two million tonnes of waste, 3.1 million tonnes of CO2 and 70 million tonnes of waste water. In fact over the full life cycle of clothing, there is a range of environmental, social and economic impacts. The growth in fast fashion and consumption is an important contributor to these impacts as is the fact that the majority of cheap fast fashion items are made from man-made materials which are often difficult or impossible to recycle. However, despite work by some of the industry's most ethical and environmentally aware designers including Katharine Hamnett, awareness of their environmental effect remains low.

According to the Independent, Primark's flagship store on Oxford Street recorded sales in excess of £600,000 last Saturday 6th December. The store generates average weekly sales of more than £2 million.

December 11, 2008