After a recent study discovered that half of the clothing offered on major websites were created from virgin polymers, fast fashion businesses are being asked to drastically expand their usage of recycled materials.
The study was carried by the Royal Society for the Arts (RSA), which analysed 10,000 clothing items from across the four brands- ASOS, Boohoo, PrettyLittleThing, and Missguided. The study found on average 49% of them were made of acrylic, nylon, polyester, and elastane.
Asos had the lowest rate with 36% of its apparel manufactured exclusively from virgin synthetic fibres while Boohoo had the worst with 60% of its products falling into this category.
In terms of the amount of plastic, both recycled and non-recycled, that goes into the typical item offered on each website, ASOS comes out on top with 49%, compared to a 61% average across all four brands.
The research claims that the plastics problem has been compounded by the pandemic's spurt in internet shopping and that a lack of appropriate recycling facilities means that most of this plastic-containing clothing would end up in the landfill.
With dresses as little as £5 on the high street and billion-pounding earnings from Asos and Boohoo, it’s not difficult to imagine the amount of plastic produced by the fast fashion business. During the epidemic, online shopping has exploded, with sales at the Boohoo Group increasing by 41% year on year.
Synthetic textiles have a major negative impact on the environment in terms of emissions and waste. According to a study by MIT, the typical polyester shirt emits 5.5kg of CO2, which is 20% higher than its cotton counterpart and equal to driving 13 miles in a passenger car. Polyester manufacture emitted 700 million tonnes of CO2 in 2015, which is equal to the yearly carbon emissions of Germany.
While several of the brands included have produced capsule collections with recycled polyester, the research claims that this might be considered "greenwashing" given the low amount of recycled fibres utilised overall by these brands.
The study says that these small, high-visibility sustainable collections can be seen as examples of greenwashing, fooling the public about fast fashion's true environmental effect. It remains to be seen whether these ecologically friendly ranges can be spread across all websites and make a genuine difference in product manufacturing and afterlife,” it states.
Overall, recycled plastics are found in just 3.2% of the apparel offered by the four stores, with ASOS beating the competition by a whopping 6%. The study singled out ASOS for having a marketplace where consumers can resale pre-worn apparel.
As a result of the study, the RSA is urging the government to consider imposing a per-item "plastic tax" on clothing containing virgin plastics that are imported or manufactured in the UK, in order to deter the exploitation of fossil fuels for manufacturing clothing. It implies that tax revenue might be utilised to fund new biomaterials advances and circular economy infrastructure.
The RSA also recommends that the government implement Extended Producer Responsibility commitments, which are currently being discussed in a Defra consultation, and incentivize businesses that take steps toward circular economy business models, such as reviewing VAT rates on repair services, among other things.
It also encourages people to wear their clothes more than a few times, buy fewer impulsive items, and share, mend, and care for their present wardrobe.
The study for the report Fast Fashion's Plastic Problem, took place between May 11 and 29. The researchers examined over 2,500 newly added goods from each website, which were dispersed across several product categories.
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