When I was about 7 (just after the Romanian revolution), the first shop with products and clothes from the Western civilisation opened just 5 minutes away from the high-rise communist concrete blocks I grew up in. My brother and I went to see what it had to offer, and I went back running to my parents to exclaim with deep conviction: I NEED to buy everything in this shop!
I always thought I had a passion for fashion… Sure, I have a degree in fashion and costume design but I realised the scale of that passion a few years ago when trying to reorganise my room. Sitting on an actual mountain of clothes and deciding to sleep on the living room sofa (because I couldn’t deal with the mess), I slowly realised that passion isn’t exactly the right word to describe my relationship with clothing. As I grew older, this “passion” extended to other elements in my life and now – after reading more about the psychology behind it – I can confess: I am a shopaholic and the ultimate consumer. From subscribing to almost all entertainment providers, (the likes of Now TV, Netflix, cinema passes) and signing up to premium accounts (Amazon, ASOS), to buying every book that has ever been recommended, topped off by a post-30’s obsession with bed linen – I can now name this for what it is: a consumerism weakness I need to tackle.
Working for an organisation with a sustainability emphasis, I am more aware of the damaging impacts of climate change and my environmental guilt has grown. Despite the joy and bargain rush I still derive from shopping, I feel like I am finally on a path to recovery. Saying this, my efforts will be tested this coming weekend with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, “one of the major peaks of consumerism,” according to Chiara Campione, Greenpeace’s global project leader. While some organisations argue that the day allows consumers to buy products they might not normally afford, we’re all certainly paying an additional fee. So, what is the environmental cost of this binge shopping extravaganza and what can do to minimise these consequences? Besides, of course, the obvious and most efficient route – abstinence.
My colleague, Christina recently wrote an interesting piece about the different environment impacts of shopping online vs in store (read it here). One thing is certain – shipping that gets items to your door faster requires more diesel trucks on the ground and less efficient shipping systems. In the UK, 81% of Black Friday purchases include a home delivery, with Amazon expected to take most sales. A diesel truck will leave an Amazon fulfilment centre every 93 seconds at peak times, according to Staveley Head.
What and how much we buy
In November 2017, UK consumers spent over £1.6bn online every week, double the amount spent in 2010.
If we dive deeper into the Black Friday shopping culture, we soon discover electronics are some of the most commonly purchased items. This leads to e-waste production, with the UK producing more e-waste than the EU average according to the Environment Audit Committee (EAC). The EAC says that out of 44.7 million tonnes of e-waste produced worldwide in 2017, 90% of it was either sent to landfill, incinerated, illegally traded or otherwise treated in a sub-standard way. Leaking toxic materials like lead and mercury into the air, water, and soil, this poses a great risk for health and the wider ecosystems.
Another top contributor to the Black Friday shopping spree climate damage is, of course, plastic; toys and games are expected to be some of the most sought-after items, according to Euromonitor International. The extreme danger plastic pollution is causing to our ecosystem is finally getting some prime-time coverage, being mentioned by Sir David Attenborough in BBC’s Blue Planet and other influential figures and media outlets. While improved waste management, recycling systems and reduction in manufacturing of single-use plastic are all good steps, Roland Geyer, author of the first global analysis of mass produced plastics, says this would not be enough to stem the plastic flow from such consumerism.
The Fast Fashion industry is bigger than ever and with events like Black Friday reducing the cost of outfits to a meal down at the local pub, it’s no surprise that we don’t value much the clothes we buy or even think twice about disposing them, causing waste that could last for centuries. People haven’t always been aware of the social and environmental price tag they pay for every product, so retailers have taken full advantage, accelerating consumerism and tricking consumers into buying more and more things they don’t need. A study published by removals company Movinga, revealed that, overall, we wear less than 50% of our wardrobe (guilty!)
Why is this so bad? Well, cotton uses a lot of land and a lot of water, clothing made from polyester (essentially a plastic) takes up to 200 years to breakdown in landfill, and other synthetic materials contribute to water pollution. The documentary, River Blue reveals that you can tell the ‘it’ colour of the season in China just by looking at the colour of the rivers. It is estimated that 70 percent of the Chinese rivers and lakes are contaminated by the 2.5 billion gallons of wastewater produced by the textile industry.
Driven by increasing consumer concerns, attitudes in the retail industry are finally changing with more than 300 retailers choosing to opt-out of Black Friday for environmental reasons.
Initiatives such as Green Friday and Make Friday Green Again have started to surface more and more, promoting activities against excessive consumerism and more sustainable consumption patterns.
Preloved and vintage wear, besides being in trend is good for ecological considerations, a recent study showing that 64 per cent of women willing to buy pre-owned pieces in 2018, compared with 45 per cent in 2016.
Sustainable or Eco clothing companies are on a fast rise but being more expensive, they tend to target those who can afford it.
Mainstream retailers also try to highlight sustainability claims through the incorporation of “conscious” lines in their collections, however, what that actually means can be vague. For example, “compostable” and “biodegradable” labels don’t always translate to better for the environment because the appropriate recycling systems might not exist in the UK.
The commitment of these companies is encouraging but somewhat conflicting with the issue of consumption. The reality is events like Black Friday support a “hyper-consumerist” society and given the urgency and severe warnings we face on climate, sustainable fashion needs to be something all mainstream retailers commit to. Although the Government is looking into these issues, stricter and more consistent policy frameworks are needed to regulate the textile and retail market allowing more sustainable consumer structures to succeed.
As for my own commitment, I took a simple pledge – not to be tempted by things I don’t need and to buy with sustainability in mind. It should be simple, right? Fingers crossed my weekend won’t turn black!
- Best vintage shops in the world https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/best-vintage-shops-in-world
- Ethical fashion brands https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/sustainable-ethical-fashion-brands-uk/
- Lucy & Yak https://lucyandyak.com/
- The Plastic Free Shop https://www.theplasticfreeshop.co.uk/
- REI https://www.rei.com/?cm_mmc=aff_AL-_-148714-_-184534-_-NA&avad=184534_c17e47d91
For more information please contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog is part of a series of environmental blogs written by the Ecuity team during the past month.
Read the other blogs in the series: