The equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is wasted every second, according to the study, while less than 1% of clothing is recycled into new clothes. In a stark warning, the report predicts the fashion industry could use up to a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050 if nothing changes.

MacArthur and McCartney are therefore calling on the textile sector to work in unison to create a ‘new textiles economy’ where clothes are worn longer and reused more often. The authors highlight a $500bn economic opportunity for the industry should it adopt a circular approach.

Speaking ahead of the report launch earlier this week, McCartney – whose namesake brand has pioneered ethical fashion for 15 years – said she was “really excited” about the solutions provided in the report.

“The report presents a roadmap for us to create better businesses and a better environment,” McCartney said. “It opens up the conversation that will allow us to find a way to work together to better our industry, for the future of fashion and for the future of the planet.”

Waste mountain

The report, which has been endorsed by the likes of H&M, Nike and the C&A Foundation, calls for a number of concrete steps to be taken. The authors want to see a phase out of polluting microfibres, half a million of which reportedly end up in the ocean each year.

They also call for retailers and designers to promote short-term leasing, radically improve recycling and use more renewable materials.

A growing consumerism trend has led to a “fast” fashion culture, with more new collections released each year, at lower prices. This in turn has had a knock-on effect on the amount of clothes discarded annually.  

In the US, for instance, it is estimated that clothes are only worn for around a quarter of the global average. It is also thought clothing items totalling at £4.6bn across Britain remain unworn.

Circular fashion

Initiatives launched by organisations such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) have helped to bring the issue to mainstream attention. Earlier this year, the EMF launched an industry-wide initiative to build a new global textile system based on the principles of the circular economy.

Last month, McCartney’s luxury fashion brand commissioned the first ever Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for man-made cellulose fibre (MMCF) used in production. This will help the company to better map the environmental impacts of its raw materials. McCartney has previous called on clothing manufacturers to stop the “unglamorous” sourcing of unsustainable and unethical products.

Retailers are starting to engage suppliers and consumers about the concepts of reuse and recycling. C&A is driving circularity by selling apparel products made from sustainable cotton. This summer, C&A became the first global retailer to launch Gold level Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certified t-shirts, which have been designed to be reused, recycled into new products or safely composted.  

The North Face has addressed climate change with the launch of its new wool beanie, with the production said to be carbon “net-negative“. Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer (M&S) earlier this year launched a new menswear wool blend suit made with 55% recycled wool, which includes materials donated in-store by its customers.

edie webinar: How to solve the plastics problem

Representatives from Interface, P&G, Surfdome and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation complete an all-star line-up for edie’s live, interactive webinar focused on plastic packaging sustainability – taking place on Thursday 7 December at 2pm-3.15pm.

Register for the free webinar here.

George Ogleby

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