Textile production generates an impressive 42 million tons of plastic waste per year, thus making the industry the second-highest industrial sector after packaging. While many may not think twice about the effect their wardrobe can have on the planet, finding environmentally friendly solutions to packaging and beyond within the industry is a growing concern that is being addressed in various ways. From the plastic waste involved with the packaging itself to the deeper issues surrounding the fashion industry, here’s what you should know.
From packaging to labor concerns
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), packaging accounts for 40% of plastic waste, while 11% comes from clothing and textiles, and 12% from consumer goods. Only 9% of plastic waste is recycled, highlighting the gravity of the environmental issues at play. However, environmental and even human rights issues surrounding the fashion industry reveal additional changes that need to be made.
Fast fashion, defined by one Entrepreneur article as “when cheap, trendy clothing becomes available at breakneck speed to meet consumer demand,” is cause for several environmental concerns. In addition to greenwashing (when companies make false/misleading claims about environmental aspects of their company/product/service), the issues surrounding a higher use of synthetic materials constitute another prominent problem.
While many may think of overseas when it comes to labor issues and the fashion industry, the issue is very much present in the United States, with one report from the U.S. Department of Labor shedding light on the matter. A random sweep of 50 garment manufacturers in Los Angeles found that 80% were breaking wage and hour laws, according to regulators. It’s further noted that 64% didn’t keep accurate time and pay records, “while more than half either paid workers off the books or didn’t provide such information,” according to the agency’s findings. The CBS News article further dives into the matter, stating that the contractors made clothing for several major national brands — including Lulus, Neiman Marcus, Stitch Fix, and more, according to the Labor Department.
The value of compostable packaging
According to one Just Style post, the fashion industry’s use of packaging is responsible for 26% of the total plastic created globally each year. While it’s noted that many brands encourage various sustainable practices, such as reusing disposable bags and/or providing reusable ones (to name just a couple), the Just Style post further delves into the difference that other options can make — such as compostable packaging. Compostable packaging, which has the ability to disintegrate into agricultural compost, can be used for a variety of needs within the industry, from shipping to in-store items. “Brands that use compostable plastic need to make sure it has been tested; is certified; and comes with clear instructions for consumers and other users about how and where to compost it.”
Doing your part
When looking to make a difference in regard to heightening sustainability within the fashion industry, several things can be done on an individual scale. One Harpers Bazaar post offers several tips for doing so, including opting to buy pieces that are made to last and making informed decisions when purchasing clothing. “I always suggest doing a bit of research and asking questions if you’re uncertain,” advises Amy Powney, creative director at sustainable label Mother of Pearl. Powney goes on to recommend reaching out to brands via social media when looking to understand more.
While buying from reputable companies with strong environmental measures is imperative in making an educated and eco-conscious purchase, understanding a company and its practices/values is equally important for those shopping for wholesale clothing as well. Whether you’re running a t-shirt business or you’d like to purchase blank apparel in bulk, doing your research regarding reviews, the company itself, and the options offered can all help make the right purchase for you. Natural fibers and dyes, organic and recycled shirts, and ensuring that the apparel is built to last are just a few eco-conscious features to look out for.
Today’s fashion industry can be improved through sustainable innovation in several ways. While a recent report has brought to light labor issues, compostable packaging, and eco-conscious choices by consumers highlight separate ways in which environmental issues are being addressed.