New report lays bare the fashion industry’s addiction to fossil fuels and urges sweeping EU legislative action (English)

3 Feb 2021 Fossil Fashion
  • The global fashion industry has become dangerously dependent on cheap synthetic
    fibres, which are made from fossil fuels such as oil and gas
  • Rapid growth in synthetic fibres, such as polyester, is driving runaway consumption,
    creating an escalating environmental catastrophe, with yet unknown health
  • The EU must now take urgent legislative action to bring the textile and apparel
    industry in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the European Green Deal

The global fashion industry has developed a dangerous addiction to synthetic fibres, which are made

from climate-destroying fossil fuels like oil and gas, to power its fast fashion business model,
according to a new report.

The report, Fossil Fashion: The Hidden Reliance of Fashion on Fossil Fuels i, charts how the use of
synthetic fibres, especially polyester, has doubled in textiles in the last 20 years, and is likely to
continue growing to reach nearly three quarters of total global fibre production in 2030, with
polyester accounting for 85% of this share.

Textiles are used in all sorts of products like clothing, shoes, carpets or furniture, though the fashion
sector is the largest consumer of textiles, accounting for more than 70% of the global textiles market
as of 2019. ii

Today, polyester is already found in more than half of all textiles. While the footprint of polyester
production in 2015 was the equivalent of 700m tonnes of CO2, comparable to the total annual
emissions of Mexico or 180 coal-fired power stations, that figure is expected to nearly double by

In addition, the oil and gas industry is betting big on plastics, from which polyester and synthetic
fibres are made, as revenue from other sectors, such as transport and energy, declines. Much of the
future growth in demand for oil is projected to come from the production of plastics, with BP
estimating the share could be as high as 95%. Production of synthetic fibres is also getting dirtier,
with feedstock coming from fracked gasiii and multi-billion-dollar investments from a major Chinese
polyester producer to convert coal into polyester yarn.iv

The report also finds a striking correlation between the rise of polyester and the explosion of cheap,
low-quality clothing that is causing a mounting waste crisis. Some brands are now churning out as
many as 20 collections per year, and people are buying 60% more clothes than 15 years ago, yet
wearing them for half as long. This trend is projected to worsen as global fashion production leaps
from 62 million tonnes in 2015 to 102 million tonnes in 2030. Surveys show that these trends are at
odds with what Europeans want from the sector. One survey from 2019 found almost nine in ten
people wanted longer-lasting clothes (88%).v

Urska Trunk, Campaign Manager at the Changing Markets Foundation, said:
“Not many consumers are aware that fast fashion is fossil fashion. The addiction of fashion brands to
cheap polyester and other oil-derived fibres is coming at a time when the world is moving away from
fossil fuels. But instead of moving away from synthetic fibres, which are causing an ecological disaster, brands want you to think they’ve got this under control and they can keep producing ever more clothes.”

Mountains of waste and oceans of microfibres

Fashion’s addiction to synthetic fibres and runaway consumption of cheap clothes is leading to
untenable quantities of clothing waste, with 87% of clothing material either incinerated, landfilled or
dumped in nature. During use, washing and disposal, synthetic clothes also leach tiny fibres that are
invisible to the eye. These ‘microfibres’ do not biodegrade, meaning they stay in the environment

As a result, microfibres are now found everywhere, from the Arctic oceans to our food chains, lungs
and stomachs. Microfibres are also present in 80% of our tap water and have even been found in the
placentas of unborn babies. The health consequences are still emerging, but microfibres are known
to harm sea creatures and preliminary studies show they could disrupt lung development.

Laura Díaz Sánchez, Campaigner at the Plastic Soup Foundation, said:
“This is an urgent wake up call. We are already eating and breathing what we are wearing because
our clothes are constantly shedding microfibres. Since microfibres do not break down naturally, we
are going to have to live with them forever. This could have devastating consequences for our health,
but it also effectively saddles our future generations with a problem that the fast fashion industry has
the tools to solve.”

The EU must step up to the plate
Despite the grand statements, pledges and a multitude of misleading green labels and initiatives, the
fashion industry has failed to make headway in reversing its catastrophic impact on the
environment, or in reducing its dependence on fossil

As the largest importer of textile and apparel in the world,vii the EU has the opportunity to show
leadership through action. With the European Commission currently preparing its textile strategy,
due later this year, the Changing Markets Foundation urges it to lay out a comprehensive plan to
slow down the rate of consumption of clothes. This can be done by decoupling the fashion industry
from fossil fuels, increasing the quality of materials, for example through eco-design measures, and
by requiring that the textile industry be responsible for the end-of-life of their products. In this way
clothes must be separately collected, reused, repaired, and the industry should start investing into
viable fibre-to-fibre recycling technologies.

The Commission must ensure any COVID Recovery Package funds are made conditional on brands
becoming more sustainable and are not used to prop up the failing fast fashion model which is
spelling disaster for the environment and workers, and short-changing citizens in the long run.

Urska Trunk, Campaign Manager at the Changing Markets Foundation, said:
“We’re buying more, wearing it less, throwing it out faster, and more and more of it now comes from
fossil fuels. We know that the fashion industry won’t solve this problem on its own. The European
Commission needs to come forward with a wide-ranging textile strategy that overhauls the
dependence of fashion on fossil fuels and puts the industry on a more sustainable footing. As one of
the biggest textile markets, the EU has a terrific opportunity to address a blind spot which is
endangering our ability to live within the planet’s limits.”





Sebastien Pant
+32 470 134 738

The full report can be accessed here.
About Changing Markets | | @ChangingMarkets
The Changing Markets Foundation partners with NGOs on market-focused campaigns. Our mission is to expose
irresponsible corporate practices and drive change towards a more sustainable economy.

About Plastic Soup Foundation | | @plasticoupfoun
Plastic Soup Foundation is an Amsterdam-based NGO focused on stopping plastic pollution at the source. Their motto: “No plastic waste in our water or our bodies”.

About Zero Waste Alliance Ukraine
Zero Waste Alliance Ukraine is a public association that unites Ukrainian zero waste initiatives, created by Zero Waste Lviv, Zero Waste Kharkiv and Zero Waste Society (Kyiv) in 2019.

About Clean Clothes Campaign | | @cleanclothes
Clean Clothes Campaign is a global network dedicated to improving working conditions and empowering workers in the global garment and sportswear industries.

About WeMove.EU | | @wemoveEU
WeMove.EU is an independent and values-based organisation that seeks to build people power to transform Europe in the name of our community, future generations and the planet.

No Plastic in my Sea | | @noplasticFrance
The association No Plastic In My Sea aims to fight against plastic pollution and its consequences on the marine ecosystem.

i Today’s report has been released jointly by the Changing Markets Foundation, the Plastic Soup Foundation, the Clean
Clothes Campaign, Zero Waste Alliance Ukraine, No Plastic in my Sea and WeMove.EU.

ii Fashion and clothing is the largest consumer of textiles. In terms of volume, the fashion sector held a considerable share
of over 70.0% of the total market in 2019. See Grand View Research, Textile Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report,
2020-2027 (2020)

iii, Fashion forward: A roadmap to fossil free fashion (2020) iv Chen. A (2020) China’s Hengli makes bold $20 billion bet to spin coal into fabric. Reuters, 29 July 2020. [ONLINE] Available at: v European Commission, Protecting the environment – Eurobarometer survey (2020)

vi Changing Markets Foundation, The False Promise of Certification: how certification is hindering sustainability in the textiles, palm oil and fisheries industries (2018)

vii World Atlas, Top 10 Textile Importing Countries In The World (30 January 2020)

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