Household consumption: textiles fourth worst environmental offender

Europe’s appetite for new textile products has an enormous impact on the natural world. After food, housing and transport, textiles are the fourth largest cause of environmental pressure.

New research from the European Environment Agency reveals that the EU’s consumption of clothing, footwear, and household textiles uses a mammoth 675 million tonnes of raw materials every year – an average of 1.3 tonnes per EU citizen, and that 53,000 million cubic metres of the world’s water is used every year – or 100 cubic metres of water per person – to feed our fashion habit. 

Textiles also cause the second highest pressure on land use and are the fifth largest contributor to carbon emissions from household consumption.

The UN states that the textile sector is responsible for between 8 and 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and it estimates that, by 2050, fashion could be responsible for a quarter of all carbon emissions.

Consumed by fashion

Stephane Arditi, policy manager for the circular economy at the EEB, said: “The current fashion system makes it too easy for people to overconsume and generate huge levels of waste. But it’s simply not possible to recycle our way out of the problem – products need to be used for longer and waste prevented in the first place.”

Globally, clothing production doubled from 2000 to 2014, with more than 150 billion garments now produced annually. But 73% of all textiles end up in landfill or incineration

Arditi added that “governments need to urgently take action to rein in the fashion industry by making options such as second-hand and renting more accessible, ensuring better information is available about what our clothes are made of, and developing design requirements for toxic-free materials that can be used again and again.”

Fashioning change

Speaking at an event on how to scale up business models that involve the remanufacture, refurbishment, resale and repair of textiles organised today by the French government under the auspices of its G7 presidency, UN Environment’s Ligia Noronha said: “People want to consume differently and better but they don’t have the infrastructure that is required for the consumption to be different. Governments must give consumers the chance to consume differently.”

Incoming Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s European Green Deal – which will include proposals for legislation to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and for becoming carbon neutral by 2050 – could include extending the EU’s existing Circular Economy Action Plan to include textiles. Last month, EU environment ministers called on the European Commission to put forward a proposal for an EU Textile Strategy to move the sector away from unsustainable production and consumption patterns.