A Parliamentary Select Committee investigating waste decided to track waste in the London Borough of Sutton from household to landfill. They were shocked to find that clothes had shot up from 7% to 30% within a space of a few years (these figures need to be double checked as may not be accurate).
The committee called this the 'Primark effect', clothes have become so cheap and lacking in durability that they have become a throw away item.
Were the clothes made from natural fibres such as wool or cotton, the materials could at least be reclaimed.
Primark are known, not only for the cheapness of their clothes, but also for the use of child labour and sourcing from Third World sweatshops. Which begs the question: why in their stores do they have posters claiming to be an ethical retailers! What little action that has been taken by Primark amounts to spin and greenwash. At a PR conference Taking the Drama out of Crisis, Primary bragged how they had successfully defended its brand by spinning the wool over its customer's eyes!
Unwanted clothes can be recycled through charity shops, but with many charity shops becoming greedy and charging almost and often more than as new prices, this simply provides a diversion on the way to the trip to landfill.
It is not only clothes where charity shops have become greedy. Charge £2-50 for contemporary novels that are often not in pristine condition and the books end up being trashed, or as the shops falsely claim, recycled.
We need to do far more, not only looking at the ethics of sourcing our clothes, but also on their durability, the materials they are made of and how easily can the materials be recycled when the clothes reach the end of their lives. We have to close the clothes loop.
Asda claim to be listening to their customers and making their clothes to be more durable.
Lincolnshire County Council Trading Standards are running a campaign on excessive packaging, asking consumers to report examples of what they consider to be excessive packaging. Whether in reality they do anything or this is just an exercise in greenwash and an excuse to waste taxpayers' money remains to be seen as when I paid them a visit no one was available to discuss what they were doing.
On the other hand contrast Lincolnshire with the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor in Hampshire where when David Quirk the official responsible for their crass waste and recycling policies was interviewed for a forthcoming Channel 4 Cutting Edge documentary he claimed supermarkets were cutting down on their waste. Which begged the obvious question: had he ever set foot in a supermarket?
North Kesteven in Lincolnshire works with the public, for two years in a row has been the best performing council on recycling. Rushmoor on the other hand fails to involve the public and it therefore comes as no surprise to find that it is one of the worst performing councils on recycling.
further information and reference
Lester R Brown, Plan B 2.0, Norton, 2006
Lester R. Brown, Throwaway economy in trouble, Earth Policy Institute, 30 November 2006
Embroidered T-shirt. Price: £4. Cost: Misery, BBC news on-line, 23 June 2008
How to recycle everything!, The Ecologist, 30 August 2008
Nick Ketteles, Designing for Destruction, The Ecologist, July/August 2008
David MacKay, Sustainable Energy, UIT Cambridge, 2009
Peter Marshall, Swap Don't Shop - Topshop, UK Indymedia, 30 November 2008
William McDonough and Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, North Point Press, 2002
Keith Parkins, Natural Capitalism, October 2000
Keith Parkins, Curitiba – Designing a sustainable city, April 2006
Keith Parkins, Oxfam scandal, UK Indymedia, 9 April 2008
Keith Parkins, Rushmoor wheelie bin madness, UK Indymedia, 11 August 2008
Keith Parkins, Household rubbish less than ten per cent of waste, UK Indymedia, 21 August 2008
Keith Parkins, Rushmoor defends crass half-size wheelie bin policy, UK Indymedia, 1 September 2008
Keith Parkins, Waste, recycling and packaging, UK Indymedia, 8 September 2008
Keith Parkins, Sainsbury's greenwash, UK Indymedia, 30 September 2008
Keith Parkins, Beyond sustainability, to be published
'Primark effect', You and Yours, BBC Radio 4, 26 December 2008
Sean Poulter, The Primark effect: Throwaway fashion that cannot be recycled now makes up 30 per cent of the waste in council tips, Mail on-line, 30 November 2008
Graham Tibbetts, 'Primark effect' lead to throwaway fashion turning up in landfill, Telegraph on-line, 25 November 2008