Today marks the first ever International Day of Zero Waste, after the UN General Assembly recognised the importance of zero-waste initiatives back in December 2022. The aim of International Day of Zero Waste is to promote sustainable consumption and production and support society shifting towards a circularity. The day aims to address several of the Sustainable Development Goals, including Responsible Consumption and Production (SDG 12). Achieving zero waste requires us to adopt a circular economy approach where we prioritise reduction, reuse, and recycling.
The definition of Zero-Waste, from the Zero Waste International Alliance, is “The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse and recovery of all products, packaging, and materials, without burning them and without discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.” We’re used to hearing about home recycling and the conversations around Zero Waste often relate to food, packaging, and disposal of materials such as electronic goods. However it’s important, to consider the influence of Zero Waste on all aspects of our consumption patterns and attitudes.
Accounting for up to 8 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases and other climate impacts, the textile industry poses a massive contribution to the waste produced globally today. Up to 100 billion garments are made each year globally, but it’s estimated that $460 billion worth of clothing that could still be worn is discarded every year. A zero-waste approach to fashion and the textiles industry needs a “whole systems” approach, including responsible production, consumption and disposal of products in a closed, circular system, where resources are reused or recovered as much as possible, trying to minimise the pollution produced at each stage.
The “Buyerarchy of Needs”
Originally thought up by Sarah Lazarovic, this concept uses a pyramid graphic to provide advice on how to reduce the carbon footprint related to consumption habits. It also highlights how to save money by utilising what you already own, and introduces other sustainable initiatives.
Use what you have!
Whilst this may seem painfully obvious, so many of us neglect the back corners of our wardrobe, or have jeans folded away in draws that we haven’t looked at for months. Instead of heading out to buy something new for an event you’re going to make sure to first check through everything you own to see if you already have something similar. It’s also important to take care of the belongings you already own: make sure to store things in the appropriate way and wash on the right temperature, to ensure the longevity of your clothing.
Upcycle: Repair, Alter or Repurpose
Closely tied to the stage before, this stage involves altering something you already own into a new item. This could involve cutting a dress into a skirt, cutting some jeans that have become ripped into a pair of shorts, stitching up a rip in your favourite jacket using some patchwork, or using bedsheets that are no longer needed as sustainable gift wrapping. This is a great way to limit waste by reducing the need to buy something new, but also to avoid producing waste by throwing away items that can be repurposed.
Borrow or Rent
The clothing rental market is currently booming, with platforms such as By Rotation and Hurr Collective, and even high street shops such as John Lewis and Selfridges allowing you the option to rent various pieces of clothing for a short time. The platforms are most commonly used to borrow items for one-off events such as weddings or balls, but can also be a great way to try ‘everyday’ pieces before you decide whether they would be a useful addition to your existing wardrobe. You can also go down the more traditional route of borrowing clothing from your family members and friends.
Buy Second Hand
There are two levels to this option: buying items for yourself, or selling your own items when you’ve finished using them. Second hand high-street charity shops have tons of great options when it comes to clothing and home wear, as well as online platforms such as Depop, Vinted, Facebook Marketplace and even buy, sell, swap Facebook groups! It’s not a perfect solution to buying brand-new clothing items but it’s a great start, working to a fashion “shopping list” can be another really useful tool to prevent overconsumption. Swapping is also a great alternative.
The final level of the “Buyerarchy of Needs”. Once you’ve considered all of your other options, it may be time to proceed with a new purchase. Even within this category, there are options for the best way to spend this money – buying good quality, versatile pieces that will last you a long time, preferably from eco-conscious brands that use ethically sourced fabrics and have ethical working conditions for all staff.
Learn more about a circular economy with real world examples on our Sustainability Leadership Skills Programme.