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Britain's Fast Fashion Industry Could Be Set for a Makeover

The cheap high-street clothes that have earned themselves the nickname “fast fashion” could be getting an environmentally friendly overhaul in Britain. 

An influential committee of MPs has launched an inquiry on Friday into the impact that the fashion industry it having on the environment, throughout its lifecycle and supply chain. 

The House of Commons environmental audit committee is set to explore how the multi-billion pound industry can be made more sustainable — specifically looking at water pollution, the use of toxic chemicals, and textile waste.

Take action: Fight Waste to Protect Our Oceans

According to sustainability charity Wrap, about 300,000 tonnes of clothing is thrown out in the UK every year, and most of that ends up in landfill. That’s according to the latest figures, collected in 2015, and it represented a drop of about 50,000 tonnes in comparison to 2012. 

But the clothing industry still has the fourth-largest environmental impact, after housing, transport, and food, according to the BBC

A lot of it has to do with what’s known as planned obsolescence, or, in other words, how our quick-turnaround clothes are designed to not last. 

Read more: This UK Store Will Buy Back Old Clothes to Cut Down on Waste

“The way we design, make, and discard clothes has a huge environmental impact,” said Mary Creagh, chairwoman of the committee. “Producing clothes requires toxic chemicals and produces climate-changing emissions.

“Every time we put on a wash, thousands of plastic fibres wash down the drain and into the oceans,” she added. “We don't know where or how to recycle end-of-life clothing. Our inquiry will look at how the fashion industry can remodel itself to be both thriving and sustainable."

In total, textile waste makes up around 5% of all rubbish in landfill sites and, globally, just 1% of clothes are recycled. 

Read more: New Report Documents Staggering Toll of 'Wasteful, Polluting' Fast Fashion

Fast fashion, rapidly changing trends, and the rise of “ultra cheap” clothes have all contributed to a “throwaway mentality” that’s leading us to undervalue the clothes we wear. 

According to a report released by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2017, the fashion industry is on pace to triple global production by 2050 — to more than 160 million tonnes of clothing. 

And, according to Wrap’s “Love Your Clothes” campaign, changes to the way the UK supplies, uses, and disposes of clothing could reduce the carbon, water, and waste footprints of clothing consumption by as much as 20% for each. 

Read more: Hundreds of H&M and Gap Factory Workers Abused Daily, Report Says

The audit committee is inviting people to comment on the environmental impact of the fashion industry by September, as part of the inquiry. 

One of the questions it’s asking is whether fast fashion is unsustainable, and what can be done to encourage people to buy fewer clothes and think more about how they’re disposing of their clothes, according to the BBC

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