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AMSTERDAM – Greenpeace has labelled polyester the “Achilles heel of fast fashion,” in a new report which reflects on the impact of its Detox campaign. The report highlights progress of 80 brands which signed up to the Detox Campaign by pledging to remove potentially hazardous chemicals from supply chains by 2020. Perhaps more interestingly, it also looks ahead to what it believes to be the fashion industry’s next major challenge – overconsumption.

Notably, the direct action NGO dismisses the “myth” of circularity, suggesting sophisticated textile recycling techniques are a long-way from being mainstream practice, instead arguing the apparel industry should promote slower fashion.

The report says: “Consumption of clothing is projected to rise further, from 62 million tons in 2017 to 102 million tons in 2030, an increase of 63 per cent. The vast majority of old clothes are thrown out with
our household waste and end up in landfills or incinerators, amounting to millions of tonnes of textiles waste worldwide.

“Textile-to-textile recycling is not yet mainstream practice and promoting the circularity myth that clothes could be ‘infinitely recycled,’ as well as failing to acknowledge that recycling also has environmental impacts, may even be increasing guilt-free consumption.

“Instead, businesses need to stop blaming consumers for overconsumption and take responsibility for a radical transformation of the fashion industry, through slowing the flow of materials – by making better quality, more durable and more versatile clothes – and implementing long-term waste prevention solutions which would design out the waste altogether.”

Greenpeace claims the growth of polyester use – on its own and in blends – represents a huge headache for the industry. The report adds: “The growth of fast fashion has been facilitated by an increase in use of polyester, which now makes up 60 per cent of clothing worldwide but is projected to nearly double by 2030. This growing predominance of polyester, on its own or blended with other materials, is one of the biggest challenges.”

On the issue of Detox, Greenpeace says that in the course of its campaign, the NGO has signed on 80 apparel companies to detox by 2020, including sportswear brands Puma, Nike and Adidas and fashion brands Primark, H&M, Levi’s and G-Star Raw.

The report says all detox signatories have moved towards greater transparency by implementing regular water-waste testing and disclosing the results.

But Greenpeace adds: “A lot more still needs to be done leading up to 2020. Companies report many technical challenges but also point to the need for policy-makers, in the EU and countries of manufacture, to take responsibility and translate the best practice into regulation. The chemical industry also needs to be more transparent on the formulations they provide, develop safer alternatives and further reduce unintentional contaminants.”

On balance, the report argues that the Detox campaign has been a major force for good in the industry. It adds: “The message of the Detox campaign – backed by public support and concern about pollution of rivers and impacts on people’s health – together with the progress made by Detox companies, has created a sea change in the way that chemicals are managed in the textiles industry.”

Commenting the report, Stefan Seidel, head of corporate sustainability at Puma said: “The launch of the Detox Campaign in 2011 was a clear wake-up call the whole industry. While the original focus was initially limited to chemical management and environmental compliance in Tier 2 of the industry’s supply chain, it also helped to expand social compliance and environmental performance efforts for these suppliers.”

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