TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Where does all of Taiwan’s unsold and unused fashion, clothing, or apparel go?
The question is relevant to the “E” and “S” of environmental, social, and governance (ESG), which Taiwan espouses in its 2050 Net-Zero Pathway. Taiwan’s stores from the high end to the night markets are awash with clothing and associated apparel, whether it be high fashion or simply something for everyday use.
It is impossible to imagine that it is all sold. Seasons change, ranges change, tastes change, and even with discount outlets, there is simply no possibility that the bewildering array of clothing, shoes, and other pieces of apparel are just stored away in the hope that the items will return to be fashionable again.
A simple walk through even outlet stores in Taipei provides evidence of the sheer mountains of clothing and apparel on sale. We are not spoiled for choice, rather we, as consumers, are drowning in it.
However, if Taiwan and the Taiwanese consumer are as committed to ESG as we are led to believe, then we need answers to these questions and action to tackle the problem. Some commentators say that consumers live in a land of make-believe and even “green wishing” if they believe that unsold, unwanted apparel is somehow recycled and becomes available to be worn again.
In 2013, the famous European fashion retailer H&M, launched a global clothing collection campaign. The company promised at the time that 95% of the thousand tonnes of textiles thrown away each year could be worn again or recycled. Consumers were led to believe that discarded items of apparel would be turned into fabrics and ultimately new products.
Instead, and despite company denials, investigative journalists reported that old clothes were not recycled but ultimately dumped and Africa appears to have been the dumping ground of choice. Fashion is simply not a sustainable product.
But it is not just a single fashion retailer involved in this process. It has to be virtually every clothing retailer. Whilst word within the fashion industry is that the very high-end labels and haute courtier brands prefer to burn their unsold stock (creating air pollution issues) for fear of the unsold items appearing at discount houses, it is the fast-fashion companies that now exist in almost every shopping district in Taiwan that must answer the question – where does it go?
Fashion industry experts confirm that the lack of transparency in the fashion industry is intentional and that it is deemed convenient not to have data on the ultimate fate of unsold apparel. We the consumer are partly to blame.
Consumers will keep the oil and gas industries under tight scrutiny, but fashion is just seen as fun and frivolous. There is an absence of academic research or journalistic investigation to properly understand the impact. If you do not have the data and do not know the impact, then it is hard to hold the fashion industry accountable.
There has not been the same kind of academic pressures or journalistic pressures to try to understand the impact. It’s convenient for the industry not to know because if you do not know the data, you cannot be accountable for it.
Let us make the fairly easy assumption, that most unwanted clothing in Taiwan ends up being burned in incinerators, and some may end up in landfills. If it is burned in incinerators, then we have the immediate issue of potential air pollution.
If it does end up in landfill, then how long does it take that material to degrade? It depends, is generally the answer. Even a layperson would assume that degradation would depend on the type of fabric and environmental factors. Natural fibers like cotton, wool, and silk should degrade more easily compared with synthetic fibers. There is also the disturbing fact that as fibers decompose, they release microplastics, which have clearly researched detrimental effects on Taiwan’s environment and wildlife.
The government should and must get involved just as they have with other industries. Put the force of law behind this important subject and suddenly you have the likelihood of effective models surfacing to help alleviate the problem.
On Wednesday (July 5), the European Commission (EU Commission) unveiled new proposed rules aimed at supporting the sustainable management of textile waste and placing responsibility for the full lifecycle of textile products in the hands of producers.
According to the EU Commission, consumption of textiles has the fourth highest impact on climate change and the environment, after food, housing, and mobility, and is one of the top factors impacting water and land use as well as greenhouse gas emissions.
The EU Commission’s new proposal includes introducing mandatory Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes, similar to those that have been used to manage waste from packaging, batteries, and electric and electronic equipment. Under the EPR scheme, producers would be required to cover the costs of management of textile waste, with the amount paid into the scheme adjusted based on the textiles’ environmental performance.
The EU Commission’s model is there. It’s time for Taiwan’s government to pick up the ball and run with it!