By Carmel Griffith, Environmental Consultant and Founder of Puggle Post Store. (photo credit: Suganth)
Hi there Bruce,
Congratulations on your awesome store. I love what you’re all about: health, fitness, getting out and feeling great (mental note: encourage my own husband to get out and do something for himself), while all the while keeping things sustainable.
Thank you for inviting me talk about two of biggest passions: waste and sustainability.
Perhaps I’ll start with a bit about me. I am an environmental consultant in the waste industry. That moment when you toss something you no longer need into your waste or recycling bin – it’s just the start of a whole chain of events involving complex and often highly political decisions, multi-million-dollar contracts, a huge transport system, logistics, countless emissions, holes in the ground, vast processing facilities, stringent environmental monitoring. And that’s just AFTER you’ve finished with your ‘thing’, never mind BEFORE you’ve even owned it.
In addition to my work as an environmental consultant (or what I think of as ‘cleaning up the mess’), I have an online store, Puggle Post www.pugglepost.com.au dedicated to encouraging kids (and their parents) to be more environmentally aware and to be more mindful about the impact of their life and consumer choices (‘preventative measures’ are always the better option in my mind).
So Bruce, I wanted to talk to you about fast fashion. I’m not talking about clothes that make you run faster (as awesome as that sounds), I’m talking about the clothing equivalent to fast food.
…Rock up, buy it, wear it a handful of times, not worrying too much about its imperfections – you didn’t pay much for it after all, and throwing it away when you’re done (which is often sooner rather than later because invariably it’s shrunk, faded, out of shape, or all of the above due to its low quality).
Fast fashion is centred around making the latest designs available to consumers at the lowest possible price and at the lowest quality that retailers and manufacturers can get away with. It’s all about high volumes and low margins. It’s an industry that convinces us through clever and constant marketing that we need this stuff, that we need more and more, that we can’t possibly wear it more than once. Buy, buy, buy, spend, spend, spend. Fast fashion clothes are basically, disposable.
(photo credit: Lauren Fleischmann)
But a lot of people don’t realise the impact that their clothes have on the environment and our fellow human beings. I think it’s very much an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ affair - it’s just so easy to walk into a store, see the price tag and think “cha-ching, bargain”. Especially if you can dissociate yourself from the product e.g., it’s just for the kids to destroy at daycare / wear once to their sports carnival etc. If it’s something you can devalue in your mind, then it’s very easy to devalue the product and the people and processes behind it.
But how is it even possible to produce and sell clothes so cheaply?
Most of the clothes sold by big brands are made in developing countries by women, mostly women trapped in the poverty cycle.
A recent report commissioned by Oxfam by Deloitte Economics found that an average of only 4% of the price of a garment goes to the women who make them, sometimes as little as 2%. This translates to 39 cents per hour in Bangladesh, and 64 cents per hour in Vietnam. This is not a fair wage. According to Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Helen Szoke, “Women are working six-day weeks and as much overtime as they can, yet they are forced to live in slums, often separated from their children and families and going hungry as they struggle to make it to their next pay.”
(photo credit: Mark Chaves)
The garment industry has a notoriously poor safety record. Long (and often forced) working hours, and poor ergonomics lead to eye strain, fatigue, and injury.
Use of chemicals and machines without proper protection or training can be dangerous, sometimes fatal (for example sandblasting jeans to give them a ‘worn’ look can cause an acute form of lung disease).
Overcrowding in factories, poor structural, electrical and fire safety, in combination with no or limited emergency provision, has caused countless deaths. A tragic example is when the Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh collapsed in 2013.
A positive outcome of this horrific event is that the world started to recognise the dire safety issues in such facilities. In response, driven by Australian consumers, almost all of the largest garment retailers in Australia joined the ground-breaking Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord. Unfortunately, it took this scale of loss of life for this to happen and despite the Accord, audit procedures are still questionable.
It might be difficult to associate clothes with pollution, but the clothing industry is reported to be the second largest polluter after the petroleum industry, at pretty much all stages of the process:
(photo credit: Carlos Grury-Santos)
Cotton, which has the image of being one of the most innocuous, natural materials in the garment actually has an immense environmental impact
Cotton is a thirsty crop. Cotton irrigation is a known cause of reduced water levels in some rivers, lakes and inland seas, with knock on effects on fisheries and reliant communities. Reduced water levels have left exposed swathes of land prone to erosion, in turn contributing to dust pollution and land deterioration.
Cotton is also very chemically dependent. Comprising only 2.4 percent of the worlds cropland it consumes 10 percent of all agricultural chemicals and 25 percent of insecticides. These chemicals enter waterways and contaminate soils and wildlife.
The dye process is another serious environmental and health impact of fabric production.
The Citarum River in Indonesia is considered one of the most polluted rivers in the world due in great part to the hundreds of textile factories lining its shores. According to Greenpeace, with 68 percent of the industrial facilities on the Upper Citarum producing textiles, the adverse health effects to the 5 million people living in the river basin and wildlife are alarming.
Altogether, more than a half trillion gallons of fresh water are used in the dyeing of textiles each year. The dye wastewater is discharged, often untreated, into nearby rivers, where it reaches the sea, eventually spreading around the globe. China, according to Yale Environment 360, discharges roughly 40 percent of these chemicals.
While not all dyes are dangerous, some are. To the extent that the US and EU have banded imports containing certain dyes. Regulation in Australia is not as stringent although self-regulation has brought about numerous products recalls due to independent testing by brands.
(photo credit: Terri Bleeker)
Synthetic alternatives such as polyester and nylon, while not associated with the same environmental impacts as the cotton industry, are made from petrochemicals – a subject for another blog post another time.
But in addition to the environmental impacts of the oil industry, synthetic clothes shed micro-fibres each time they are washed. These fibres find their way into our water ways, environment and food chain and are non-biodegradable.
The clothing supply chain is a highly complex process, involving transport across the world and back for different stages of the process: production of raw materials, textile manufacture, dying, sewing, even labelling.
In addition to the carbon footprint of the actual manufacturing process, there are further impacts associated with transport between the various stages. In particularly, shipping fuel is notoriously dirty, and shipping emissions mostly unregulated.
Once we’ve finished with our clothes, while it’s easy to drop unwanted clothes off at the nearest clothes bank or charity shop, some charities are buckling under the shear volume of waste clothes. I know first-hand that sadly a lot of clothes ‘donated’ in the best of interests have no other alternative than to be taken to landfill.
The second-hand clothes market here in Australia just isn’t big enough. The affordability, convenience and appeal of new clothes makes purchasing preloved clothes a less desirable option.
Note that some clothing banks are operated commercially (sometimes under the name of charities). ‘Donated’ clothes become just another commodity in a lucrative business, with the traders and distributors sometimes benefitting more than the new owner of the clothes.
Meanwhile the ever-growing mountain of second-hand garments from overseas prompted five East African countries recently to ban the import of second hand clothes because their own domestic garment industries have no hope of competing against them.
(photo credit: Andrei Ciobanu)
So what can you do?
I know what you’re thinking Bruce. Summer is around the corner – we’re better off going naked. It’s far better for the planet (although not so much for your UV exposure).
But for the sake of anyone passing by your nude training session, you can make a difference by making some informed consumer choices.
- Buy from small brands LIKE BRUCE APPAREL who are ahead of everyone else with their sustainability commitment by actively seeking out environmentally and ethically sound products. Take it from me Bruce, SUPPORTING SMALL BUSINESS IS COOL!!
- If you do buy from brands, support those that are taking action with regards to their environmental and ethical commitment (yes, walking the talk). You can find some information about big brands here: http://whatshemakes.oxfam.org.au/company-tracker/
- Choose quality over quantity. Your clothes will last longer, feel better, look better and take up less room in your wardrobe
- Help spread the message. Talk about this stuff. Sign the petition to demand big brands pay a living wage to the women who make your clothes: http://whatshemakes.oxfam.org.au/#wsm-pledge-form__tab-pledge
- OK this one doesn’t apply to you directly Bruce, if you are anything like my husband you probably hate shopping – all the advertising in the world won’t make him spend his spare time looking for new clothes. But if you have people in your life who include shopping amongst their hobbies, gently help them to see what a waste it is – on so many levels, including their own wallets. Get them out training with you!!
References and resources