Humankind’s devotion to the throwaway culture is hard to change and undeniably strongly influenced by consumerism. A throwaway lifestyle is seen as a sign of modernity – single use plastic straws, polypropylene utensils for takeaway food and fast fashion – the business within the fashion industry which builds on cheap and speedy production of low-quality clothing that meets the latest trends.
According to the Environmental News & Data Platform, Earth.Org, fast fashion culture generates an estimated 92 million tons of global textile waste and contributes to nearly 10% of global carbon emissions and 20% of global wastewater every year drying up rivers and streams in the most vulnerable environments. The effects do not only apply for processes throughout the supply chain, even washing clothes releases 500.000 tons of microfibers into the oceans each year, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. The industry is stuck in a toxic circle of overproduction and overconsumption, posing a giant problem to environmental sustainability.
Earth.Org has released a list of the biggest fast fashion company polluters on which Swedish fashion company H&M takes second place of contributing extreme amounts of textile waste.
H&M is the second-largest fashion retailer in the World with more than 5.000 stores thereby also contributing extreme amounts of textile waste . The company is known for copying high end fashion directly off the catwalks, rapid clothing turnover and unsustainable practices including – previously – using harmful chemicals such as PFC’s and phthalates in their products.
The company has further been accused of inhumane working conditions. In January 2022, the report Fair Action and Fair Finance Guide by Oxfam-initiated Fair Finance International (FFI) showed H&M did not keep its promise of making it possible for 850.000 garment workers in Bangladesh to earn a living wage by 2018, with factory owners in Bangladesh reporting H&M buyers to negotiate aggressively to lower the prices.
Since, the fashion retailor has made attempts to adopt more sustainable practices such as implementing clothing collections where items are made of at least 50% sustainable materials. H&M publicly announced the goal of using only recycled and sustainably sourced materials by 2030.
However, these intentions do not include reducing the introduction of several new collections every year. Although made from “sustainably sourced materials”, H&M has released at least 15 new clothing collections just in 2022 continuing to contribute to the fast fashion industry and throwaway culture. This has resulted in criticism of H&M being too vague in its sustainability claims and lack of transparency relating reducing its environmental impact throughout the supply chain.
Cordelia Sigurdsson, of the University of Cambridge newspaper, Varsity, said companies should be legally obliged to contribute to clothing recycling schemes. She however further points to the fact, that encouraging a boycutt of fast fashion brands should be seen as a privilege, not a viable option for everybody, which she sees having little global impact to put every fast fashion brand in the market out of business.
– It is indeed up to the consumer to make an active effort not to purchase large volumes of clothing from fast-fashion companies. Yet the consumer should not take the majority of the blame for the industry’s environmental impact. We can buy fast fashion, and we should also commit to recycling clothing or purchasing less – but fast-fashion companies must be expected to do more than the bare minimum in terms of sustainability or ethical practice.
Spanish apparel giant Zara takes first place on Earth.Org’s list of most polluting fast fashion companies with Japanese Uniqlo, Chinese Shein, Japanese Mango and British ASOS taking fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh place respectively.