Fashion is a big part of our lives. We all have to wear clothes (with a few exceptions) and each of us has a different way of choosing clothes. Some of us like to dress to impress, while others value practicality or longevity more. Regardless, every piece of clothing we buy and wear represents a personal choice.
It is no secret, however, that fashion as an industry is also extremely wasteful. Fashion production contributes to 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emission from human activity—more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Once produced, there’s still a lot of inefficiency in the way we consume fashion. Every year, Australia’s fashion waste fills the equivalent of two-and-a-half MCG stadiums. ABC’s War on Waste paints this picture vividly in an episode as the host Craig Reucassel sits on a pile of 6,000 kg of textile waste that Australians create every 10 minutes.
So what can we do to help reduce the fashion industry’s carbon footprint? Here are our top five tips for you.
5 ways to reduce your fashion waste and carbon footprint
#1 Shop your wardrobe
Buying less is an important part of reducing your fashion footprint.
During Covid-19, a lot of people couldn’t really go out shopping, resulting in a movement to simply shop their own wardrobe. You could try and mix and match your existing clothes differently and try to come up with new styles.
#2 Take good care of your clothes
Fast fashion has made buying clothes such a cheap, easy exercise that fashion becomes disposable in people’s mind. Sometimes people forgot that a t-shirt they bought should actually last them more than just 3 wears. When they spill wine on a cheap item of clothing they bought, people just shrug their shoulders and say “ah, well, it was only five bucks anyway.” Even if you have some cheap clothes, you should try to take good care of them to reduce waste. Don’t like the clothes? Still, take good care of them as somebody else might enjoy them (see point 3 below).
To do this, look for easy tips to remove stain on clothes. Print the tips and have them handy (like on your fridge, for example) so you can remove any stain as soon as possible. Similarly, repair clothes with minor damage instead of throwing them away. You could keep a simple sewing kit at home or get the help of a professional if needed. Extending your clothes’ life for as long as possible is key to reducing our fashion waste.
#3 Buy and sell second hand clothes
Australians have become increasingly open to the idea of buying second hand clothes in the past few years, particularly as younger generations are more aware of fashion’s carbon footprint. Second hand clothes are less resource-intensive and, even better, cheaper than new ones! Buying something that’s new-to-me usually gives us the same endorphin rush as buying new, so why not save your money and the environment in one go?
You can check out brick-and-mortar local op shops in your area, online marketplaces and online thrift stores to find deals. Weekend markets also often feature second hand clothes stalls, like those in Rozelle Collectors Market in Sydney.
If you take good care of your clothes (see point 2 above), you could also sell clothes you’re no longer wearing to make some pocket money and extend the item’s life. You could try listing them on marketplaces like Gumtree, eBay and Facebook Marketplace, or send them to a consignment store that will sell them for you.
#4 Laundry better
Three keys: wash less, wash with cold water and hang dry.
Even though it’s now so easy to do laundry, try to make sure that you always run full loads to reduce your overall water and detergent consumption. Sometimes, it’s tempting to run a half-full laundry just because you need that one green top for a party this weekend. If this is the case, you could try to hand wash just the select items you need urgently, and wait to do laundry until you have a full load. It’s also good practice to use non-abrasive detergents where you can.
Wash with cold water
Most washing machines offer to wash clothes in water temperatures of 30-60 degrees celsius. While it’s useful to do so in some cases, like if you need to sanitize clothes to stop the spread of germs, cold water generally works just as great at washing clothes, especially those with delicate and dark, colourful fabrics. In fact, contrary to popular belief, not all stains respond to warmer water. Blood and swear are actually better treated with cold water.
Cold water also reduces the risk of accidental shrink, fade and wrinkle with certain fabrics. Another bonus point? You may also reduce your energy costs with every load as 75-90% of all the energy your washing machine uses goes to warming up the water.
One of the perks of living in Australia is you likely can hang dry your clothes all year long. Yet, a lot of people still use tumble dryers to dry their clothes. Choosing to hand dry your clothes can significantly reduce your household’s carbon footprint.
Tumble dryers are actually very energy-intensive especially if they are electricity-powered (instead of gas). If you run a dryer 100 times a year, you could save nearly 25 kg of carbon dioxide emission by switching to a clothes rack or washing line. Plus, save money on electricity bills!
#5 Dispose responsibly
Sometimes, a piece of clothing is so worn out that it’s just not wearable anymore. In this case, avoid donating it to a charity because if you wouldn’t give it to your friend, it is unlikely someone would wear it. Sending it to charity will only add to their burden, with the Red Cross paying $13 million a year to dispose of clothes they can’t sell.
In this case, consider upcycling your clothes to turn them into something useful, like a rug or cleaning cloth. If that’s not an option, look for textile recycling options in your city. Some stores like H&M offer this service, albeit at limited capacity. If you’ve exhausted all options, dispose of your used clothes in the garbage bin responsibly.
Which tips will you adopt to make your fashion more sustainable?
Al Putri is the co-founder of SwapUp, an online thrift store that buys and sells second hand clothes to reduce fashion waste in Australia. She enjoys sharing tips to reduce waste and live more sustainably in general.