The Hidden Problems of Sustainable Fashion

The Hidden Problems of Sustainable Fashion

We at EcoHQ, previously published an exhaustive article on whether slow fashion choices, especially in clothing, are sustainable or not. It’s the material, the place of manufacturing, the brand, that one needs to be aware of, in order to make an almost eco-friendly choice.

Although, one’s fashion choices cannot be 100% sustainable unless there is an end-of-life cycle to the clothes’ life or the said end cycle is eco-friendly too. 

For example:
Buying a t-shirt that’s made from recycled material will serve no good to the environment if it ends up in the landfill with the same materials and added chemicals. Instead, if the company selling that t-shirt can take them, in aiming to close the life cycle of the t-shirt then that would be the most eco-friendly practice.

Similarly, there are bigger problems that you should be aware of before going on a sustainable shopping spree. 

Greenwashing

Greenwashing happens when a company spends more resources on marketing itself as environmentally conscious instead of implementing green practices. Similar to the term ‘while washing’, this is a gimmick to get brownie points from consumers. 

How to identify it?

  • Green products but harmful practices: Producing recycled apparel by polluting rivers.
  • Exaggerated claims: Talking about only one green attribute when everything else is not eco-friendly
  • No substantial evidence: Making huge claims but not having enough data to back it up.
  • Geekspeak: Using heavy jargon that the laymen won’t understand

Remember that companies can only greenwash their customers successfully if the customers believe and promote them. It will take you some effort to determine if the company is actually green or not, but every second comes at the cost of your future. 

Reverse logistics

Even if one tries to be sustainable, the end cycle of clothes can really change the equation. Unfortunately, most textile waste is mindlessly dumped in landfills or burned. Both these things pollute the land and the air causing hazards to the environment. But what if these clothes are discarded safely? One of the possible solutions for that is reverse logistics. 

Reverse logistics, in the context of sustainable clothing, means taking back clothes to discard safely or upcycle further. Even if certain apparel is made of the most sustainable material and in the most eco-friendly manner, its end cycle plays a huge role. If this apparel ends up in land as waste, the whole effort of making it eco-friendly becomes meaningless. While some companies ask their consumers to return clothes and are even offering discount codes to encourage these efforts, most companies’ involvement ends after the clothes are sold. This solution is not as difficult as it seems if executed correctly. 

Unfortunately, this process, as many others, comes with its own set of challenges. Firstly, there’s very little awareness about the problem of textile waste. And even if there is awareness, there is no motivation to act on it.

Another possible problem could be logistics. Arranging for returns and transporting the clothes back to the company can become a hassle that most people wouldn’t bother with.

Lastly, there’s an unwillingness in consumers to take the effort of sending back their clothes. Most people would just toss their clothes in the bin and forget about it. Companies need to provide some sort of gratification (like InfiniteX) to enable change in their behaviour. If planned and executed correctly, this is one of the most robust solutions when it comes to closing the loop. 

Let’s explore a few solutions:

Thrifting

Thrifting is gaining popularity as it is a cost-effective solution to the infamous problem statement: “I don’t have anything to wear!” Many thrift stores have been set up online to make it easier for people to buy clothes. It is a great solution to reducing waste and ensuring that the said clothing is used completely. It’s also a routine practice that most Indians have adopted with most of the household items. However, there are some challenges with thrifting too.

  • Hygiene comes into question since they are used clothes
  • Sizing and fit becomes a problem too since not everything one likes will be available their size and they wouldn’t be able to check for fits unless its a physical store
  • People who have sensitive skin and are susceptible to rashes won’t be able to opt for this option at all

However, if one can, one should consider thrifting. It’s easy on the pocket and EARTH too! 

Chemical Recycling

Fast fashion is becoming one of the biggest problems. Clothes are mass-produced, without keeping the labour laws in mind, and are mostly low quality.

The rise of fast fashion in India has led to the fashion industry becoming one of the top contributors to pollution. Every day, up to 45,000 metres of fabric waste is produced, adding to the pre-existing problem of waste management. And this problem is going to be larger than ever with the increasing population.

One of the solutions that are gaining popularity is chemical recycling. As the name suggests, it involves using a series of chemicals to dissolve the fiber from the fabric into monomer/solvent form either to make newer fiber compounds or extract one compound from a mix. Without compromising on quality, this recycling process can be carried out in a controlled environment. And thanks to this process, fabrics are not limited to daily wear, but also hard to recycle fabrics like jackets and home decor items can be discarded and given a new life.

Another advantage is that it is considered to be the only technology that will help close the loop completely, unlike most processes that tend to leave a lot of waste behind. Although a lot of heavy machinery is used, it has a lesser carbon footprint. Hence, the negative impact on the environment is also reduced. 

Unfortunately, there are a couple of limitations that come with the technology. The fabric being of superior quality is the best-case scenario. Sometimes, a lot of fabric gets lost in the process and cannot be recovered. Contamination or mixing of fabrics can make the cloth non-recyclable. 

Chemical recycling also uses a lot of raw materials making it an expensive affair that most countries wouldn’t opt for. While it will take some time to adopt the technology and make it affordable, we can hope that it will significantly reduce wastage.

Can the technology be commercialized in India and will the discarding habits of people change to keep up with this technology? Only time will tell. But the need to deal with the textile waste crisis simply cannot be denied.

In Conclusion,
It’s essential to keep the end cycle in mind when buying clothes. Ideally, most things should be taken care of in the retail stage itself to avoid making the end cycle tedious. More and more companies must concentrate on sorting out their reverse logistics. There needs to be awareness about textile waste and its harmful effects. 
Our curated checklist can help a layperson decide based on the context as to what could be the most sustainable choice for them.

How to shop sustainably:

  • check the material
  • find out the place of manufacture
  • do a deep-dive audit of the brand
  • check if reverse logistics options are available

As a large scale solution, we can consider

  • thrift as much as we can
  • check if textile recycling options are available
  • opt for natural fibres, not non-recyclable blends

Got other solutions in mind? Let us know!

Credits

Authored by Purva Guhagarkar and strategised by Deepa Sai (founder of ecoHQ)

Purva is a strategist, visualiser, copywriter, dog mother, sustainability enthusiast, and a lifelong learner. She comes with over four years of experience in the advertising industry and has been helping brands speak better to their audience.

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