There are adequate signals warning the possibility of an exponential growth of textile dumping in India, due to changing local trends and lack of prohibitive laws.
Globalization and consumerism are perhaps the most popular buzz words that have driven the world economy in the last 2-3 decades. The effects of both the phenomenon can be easily established owing to the increase in access to resources and increase in choices available for purchase by the consumer.
Globalization by way of free trade agreements between various countries has made it easy for brands to make their products in countries where the labor is cheap, and transport it to anywhere across the world. This has also contributed to the phenomenon of ‘fast fashion’, which has significantly contributed to the rising consumerism.
The last few years have seen significant development in the fashion industry, but it is also time to take note of the negative environmental and societal effects of this industry that seem to be getting out of control.
As per NYtimes, H&M- the Swedish retail giant, currently has a build up of staggering USD 4.3 Bn of unsold inventory across the world, which is comparable to the total raw material and finished textiles of USD 5.3 Bn imported by India during FY18. The company revealed that their profits touched the lowest in 16 years in the year 2017, which means that the company has been unable to churn their stock effectively and satisfy the rapidly changing consumerism behavior. It is the same consumerism behavior that was originally created by these brands years ago. The scale of the problem may be illustrated by the fact that a power plant in Vasteras, the town in which H&M founded its first store relies partly on burning defective garments that the retailer cannot sell to create power.
It was always believed that H&M was burning excess stock, but it has also been reported that luxury brands too indulge in a similar practice. BBC has reported in Jul 2018 that Burberry, the upmarket British fashion brand burned goods worth GBP 90 Mio over the last 5 years to protect its brand by preventing the unsold inventory being stolen or sold cheaply. The company claims that the energy was captured by way of burning, thereby making it economically friendly!
Some of the biggest retail fashion names have launched take-back programs. Clothes collection bins have popped up in most of the developed Western countries, where consumers are encouraged to donate all unwanted products so that they can be given a “new purpose”, and in some cases by giving discounts on future purchases.
Most often, the economics of recycling simply makes it cheaper to send those collected garments to developing countries all across the globe. That's because recycling clothes in the true sense into other textiles, particularly new clothes, is costly, difficult and tedious. As per Author and environmentalist Elizabeth Cline, it would take H&M more than a decade to recycle what it sells in a matter of days.
The most simple option once it is shipped to a different country is to dump it in landfills, which is very rampant in developing nations in Asia, Africa and South America. The useful garments are however sorted and sold in local second hand or street markets. As per report by CBC in Jan 2018, much of the shipped garments that were shipped to Kenya are not good enough to be sold, and therefore ultimately goes to landfill. As per CBC, approx. 85% of all unwanted textiles in North America end up in landfills, which amounts to more than 11Billion Kgs every year.
Such developing countries that import the donated garments do so since there are no laws preventing textile dumping. Currently, it is only developed countries that are taking the lead to ban textile waste dumping. Two Canadian municipalities have banned textiles from being dumped into landfills on account of the magnanimity of such waste getting generated. France in 2018 has banned fashion retailers from throwing away unsold clothes.
Indian retail market too is currently experiencing rising consumerism and onset of the buyback schemes by leading brands. These are adequate signals warning the possibility of an exponential growth of textile dumping in India, due to changing local trends and lack of prohibitive laws.
The rising and largely unaware phenomenon of textile dumping has reached such magnanimous volumes that leads us to the point that textile collection and old textile treatment is not a solution. The solution is to change consumerism – check your closet before buying new garments, repair your old ones and re-use, and simply “don’t buy too much”!