By Ranvir S. Nayar *
Showing off “Shein hauls” is one of the latest trends on Instagram and TikTok. There are hundreds of videos of people wearing the clothes they just bought from Shein, a Chinese fast-fashion company that has sown the nerves of senior executives at Zara, H&M, Uniqlo and many more.
While other fast fashion companies have been around for almost half a century and have already revolutionized the global apparel industry by reducing both prices and the time it takes for new models to get from the catwalk to the customer, the Chinese upstart further reduced the lead time and its prices, making even the most competitive competitors appear expensive.
Despite campaigns about the dangers of overconsumption and accusations that fast fashion is nothing but overconsumption, the carbon footprint of the global textile industry has grown rapidly, as has the amount of waste generated. , because most fast fashion clothes go to landfill well before the end of their lifecycle.
The textile industry is one of the most polluting in the world, with a significant footprint from the production of raw materials – whether cotton or synthetic fibers – to manufacturing and transportation. For example, in 2015, the global textile industry consumed 79 billion cubic meters of water, compared to 266 billion used by the entire EU economy and its 446 million inhabitants in 2017.
Textiles continue to pollute even after products reach consumers, accounting for 20 percent of global wastewater production. Up to 35% of all primary microplastics that end up in the oceans are produced as a result of washing clothes. A single wash of polyester clothing can reject 700,000 microplastic fibers that can end up in the food chain. Overall, around 10 percent of global carbon emissions can be attributed to the textile industry.
Clothing and other products like shoes that are often thrown out too early also contribute significantly to the mountains of waste that have come to envelop the world we live in today.
Due to the low prices, buyers are certainly spending more on clothing. It is estimated that the amount of clothing purchased in the EU per person has increased by 40 percent since 1996. An average European uses almost 26 kg of textiles and throws away around 11 kg each year, of which 87 percent is incinerated or end up in landfills.
If this is the situation in a part of the world which prides itself, with some justification, on following the greenest of all world standards, then one can only wonder about the other parts of the world, especially the world. rich. There, waste generation is increasing every year despite a growing awareness of the need to reduce carbon emissions, which can only happen if consumers become responsible.
There is little evidence of this, as shown by the amount of solid waste generated each year. Around 2 billion tonnes of municipal waste are currently produced each year, rich countries, which represent only 16 percent of the world’s population, produce 34 percent of the world’s waste. By 2050, municipal solid waste generation is expected to increase by 70% to 3.4 billion tonnes, outpacing population growth.
Poor consumption habits are at the heart of this heap of garbage. Besides fashion and food, both of which are major producers of solid waste, a relatively new component of solid waste is electronic waste, which has perhaps experienced the fastest growth among all major waste categories. . This is again linked to the production of cheap, short-lived products that are bought by billions and thrown away by millions every year. In 2019, the world produced around 50 million tonnes of e-waste and that number is expected to reach 70 million tonnes by the end of the current decade.
Likewise, in general, the production of almost all kinds of solid waste is expected to increase by 2050, and in almost all regions of the world.
While low-income countries may justify increasing their waste generation due to increasing consumption fueled by higher incomes and strong population growth, rich countries will find themselves in a bind when they attempt to justify the growth in their waste production over the next two decades. . The amount of waste produced by rich countries is far above the global average, which is 740 g per person per day. The global range is huge, from 110g to 4.54kg per person per day. No prizes for guessing which part of the world generates the most waste per person per day.
Coming back to the EU, its total solid waste production has increased and is expected to continue to grow over the next three decades. Together, Europe and Central Asia accounted for 392 million tonnes of municipal waste in 2016, and this figure will rise to 440 million tonnes in 2030 and 490 million tonnes in 2050. This despite the aging and decline of the population. population in most of the countries of these countries. regions, especially the EU.
Beyond the EU, no region can boast of stabilizing its waste production, let alone reducing it.
While companies and governments have some responsibility in reducing the production of solid waste to significant levels in order to prevent the world from continuing on the path of some climate catastrophe, consumers must also do their part. . Until consumer habits become more responsible and people at least start to recycle and reuse the products they buy, or keep them longer, there is little that can save the Earth from harm. the catastrophe.
- Ranvir S. Nayar is Editor-in-Chief of Media India Group, a global platform based in Europe and India, which encompasses publishing, communications and consulting services.