Unused in the box – Austrians hoard millions of garments

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About half of the clothes in the wardrobes of Austrians are not or hardly worn. A study commissioned by the Chamber of Labor (AK) and Greenpeace calculated 185 million almost unused garments.

“Today’s trends are nonsense tomorrow,” consumer expert Lisa Panhuber of Greenpeace summarized during a press conference on Wednesday. Fast fashion became an environmental issue.

The fast-moving fashion industry “is feeling the climate crisis, polluting rivers and seas and creating unsustainable working conditions for millions of people,” Panhuber said. Only three percent of textiles worldwide are recycled. “Too much is produced and thrown away, clothes are worn too short,” emphasizes AK consumer researcher Nina Tröger. “We need behavioral changes – a rethinking of producers, traders, but also consumers – and legal rules”.

The low price is decisive
For the study of what it looks like in the wardrobes of Austria, 1506 people were interviewed by the Integral Institute. Every second person buys from major fashion chains or online stores. Long-wearing and functional clothing is important to most, but the reality is different. The low price in particular is decisive, especially due to the currently prevailing inflation. “While consumers are aware of the dark side of the fashion industry, low price and convenience, keyword online shopping, are often decisive,” says Tröger.

Four-fifths of those surveyed agreed that the environment was greatly damaged by overproduction of clothing (86 percent) and that fast fashion was a great evil (81 percent). “In a climate-friendly world, we don’t buy disposable clothes, but we can buy second-hand clothes in many shops, borrow and repair fashion,” said Panhuber. 20 percent of global water pollution goes back to the textile industry.

The majority buys online and from large chains
The respondents spend an average of 792 euros per year on clothing. They say they bought an average of 18 pieces of clothing last year, which is much lower than the 50 to 60 pieces of clothing per person per year reported in trade accounts. 49 percent of those surveyed shop in branches of major fashion chains such as H&M or Zara and in online stores or from catalogs of major retailers such as Amazon or Shein (48 percent). After all, a third of those surveyed bought second-hand clothing, especially young people, who also like to buy from cheap retailers such as Shein, where T-shirts are sold for 50 cents.

About half of the clothing (48 percent) is worn often, 25 percent occasionally, 15 percent rarely or at most once a quarter and twelve percent never. The useful life for shoes is approximately 2.9 years, for trousers approximately three years and for jackets and coats 4.8 years. Young people change their wardrobe more often than older people. The share of clothing that is only worn for one year has increased. In a comparison of the federal states, the Tyroleans spend the most money on new clothes every month. The Lower Austrians have the most clothing, the Vorarlbergers anyway. On the other hand, the share of unworn clothing is highest in Vienna.

Slightly more than half of those surveyed (52 percent) say they put discarded clothing in textile boxes. They donate 38 percent to charitable organizations. However, every third person (33 percent) throws textiles in the household waste. 24 percent give them away, twelve percent resell them online.

Only the smallest part of the discarded clothing is recycled. Most of it is still burned in the countries of the Global North or exported to the Global South and floods the textile markets there, is burned or ends up in the garbage, Panhuber stressed. In Austria in 2018, 170,042 tons of textile waste were incinerated and 41,000 tons of used clothing were exported, but only 15,071 tons were recycled. Worldwide, a truckload of clothing is incinerated or sent to a landfill every second.

Destroy ban and clothing repair bonus
AK and Greenpeace therefore advocated a reconsideration among consumers, retailers and politicians. There is currently talk of a nationwide ban on the destruction of new textiles. There should be a bill for that soon, Tröger and Panhuber said. They also ask for some kind of clothing repair bonus. More money is needed for repair services and rental and sharing systems. Repair should be easier and cheaper than buying new. Environmental and climate-friendly criteria must be taken even more into account in the design phase – this also requires rapid implementation of the Ecodesign Regulation and the textile strategy.

Due to strong EU supply chain legislation, manufacturers and retailers must transparently disclose the stations in their supply chain and be liable for human rights violations, harm to health or environmental damage in production. The current draft of the EU Commission should therefore be improved, include medium-sized companies and be complemented by stricter requirements for climate protection.

Consumers also need more transparency about the materials and manufacture of the products, for example through a digital product pass and quality marks that are independently verified and exceed the minimum legal standards. Furthermore, the quality mark jungle must be reduced by a new system of quality marks.

Source: Krone

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