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With the rise of conscious consumerism, fashion lovers have embraced sustainable fashion solutions to update their wardrobes, like renting instead of buying. But it turns out that it’s not quite the green solution that clothing rental platforms might have you believe. In a new study, researchers have found that renting clothes could be more harmful to the planet than throwing them away.
New study reveals that renting clothes has a bigger climate impact than wearing and disposing of them. The research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental research letters, considered five different approaches to fashion.
This included renting, reselling, recycling, carrying items for longer periods and shorter periods. In each scenario, the scientists analyzed the greenhouse gases emitted.
Rental fashion carbon footprint
Of the five types of textile ownership and end-of-life treatment, rental was the worst. Much of the rental’s hidden carbon footprint came from transportation. Rental fashion requires back and forth between warehouses and tenants. A lot of packaging can also be involved, from cardboard boxes to plastic bags.
After each use, clothes should be dry cleaned and disinfected, an energy-intensive process. Then there are the emissions related to the maintenance of the warehouse itself.
âThe use of rental services is likely to increase customer mobility, and if this happens on a large scale, then the Share scenario has the highest global warming potential,â the article’s authors wrote. .
Share refers to the ‘sharing economy’ approach to fashion, popularized by rental platforms such as Rent the Runway, Rebag and GlamCorner. Since becoming a trend, many fashion brands have decided to run their own rental services, from Levi’s to Lululemon.
Globally, online rental fashion is expected to grow more than 10% per year to be worth $ 1.96 billion by 2023.
Make rental more ecological
But the researchers were clear that people shouldn’t write off the rental altogether. Some changes led by rental companies could help reduce emissions from the sector.
For example, transportation emissions could be reduced if they started using bicycles and electric vehicles instead of fossil fuel cars. Or if the warehouses rented items from people who lived nearby, instead of consumers located far away.
Renting could also be more carbon-friendly if items were rented to more people over time.
âIn summary, it can be said that if the uses can be doubled and the delivery can be arranged … then the sharing scenario can reach approximately the same level of GWP as the reuse scenario,â the authors said.
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Buy less and buy better
So what’s the best approach to fashion? It turns out that the rule is simple: buy less and buy better.
âWhile innovative solutions can improve sustainability in certain positions in the value chain, they can also maintain significant rebound effects,â they explained. âCurrently, reducing the total quantity of products in the circuit is the most effective way to orient the sector towards more sustainable practices. “
âReduction and reuse strategies are the most practical for achieving such goals,â the authors concluded.
It means focusing on buying fewer items, wearing the things we have for as long as possible, and finally reselling or giving them away.
Main image courtesy of Rent The Runway.