Taking action on fast fashion: Study shows way forward on textile waste

Consumers and sectors of the fashion industry alone cannot drive the change needed for a more sustainable textile industry, new research shows.

The textile industry will require government policy and market intervention to make the necessary changes, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo.

“Because the current state of the fashion industry is linear – meaning all products are made from entirely new materials – only a small percentage of used textiles are being diverted from landfills and only three per cent are making their way into new clothing,” said Sabine Weber, a doctoral student from Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment. “To move the fashion system toward circularity, governments must strengthen the markets for reclaimed fibres.”

A woman shops for clothes, which are marked on sale.

There are few regulations in Canada that address textiles, which account for an estimated five to 10 per cent in Canadian landfills. Policymakers could provide industry with incentives to use reclaimed fibres, Weber said. Municipalities could, for example, include textiles in their waste-management plans to encourage diversion programs.

The city of Markham, Ont., banned textiles from waste disposal, and new drop off bins immediately notify waste management authorities – as well as second-hand clothing retailers – that there is material for pick up. “If we could have more programs like this connected with more research in textile recycling and a requirement to make reclaimed fibres a priority in clothing manufacturing, we may be able to avoid having these items end up in the landfill,” Weber said.

While garment consumption has never been so high, the lifespan of a garment has never been so short. Consumer textile waste is not the only source of the problem, Weber said: The industrial, commercial and institutional sectors are also a big contributor of textile waste.

“If we want to promote a sustainable fashion industry, governments need to step in with policies that could change this trend.”

Weber’s study appears in the World Review of Science, Technology and Sustainable Development.

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