Almost half of clothes sold by online fashion brands are made of ‘virgin’ plastic – while millions of spare hides are burnt or sent to landfill.

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Almost half of clothes sold by online fashion brands are made of ‘virgin’ plastic – while millions of spare hides are burnt or sent to landfill.

The enormous environmental impact of the fashion industry has been highlighted by research by the UK’s Royal Society for Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA).  It found that half (49 per cent) of 100,000 sampled products from online retailers Asos, Boohoo, Misguided and PrettyLittleThing were made entirely of new plastics. Low cost and disposable, these can quickly end up in landfill.

As consumers look at sustainability, the Leather and Hide Council of America (LHCA) is campaigning to see the millions of surplus hides, currently burnt or thrown away, used instead to deliver long lasting leather goods. It sets out some of the key figures in its new video short that can be viewed below.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculates that the fashion industry produces 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions, an impact compounded by pollution caused by production of synthetic materials which ranges from chemical waste to microplastics. The US leather industry uses 83% of the hides from dairy and meat, some 27.5 million hides per year, and is committed to ensuring that the remaining 17% (5.5 million) are not burnt or sent to landfill but used to make clothing or shoes.

Stephen Sothmann, President of LHCA, said,

“Fast fashion is leading to a mountain of clothes being thrown away– many barely worn. This is not only a waste of precious resources and money; it is also highly polluting.  Clothes buried in landfill can take up to 200 years to decompose, releasing harmful toxins into the air, soil and groundwater.

We want to reverse the wasteful cycle of ‘buy, wear, dispose’ by reminding people that sustainably sourced leather is a natural, ‘slow’ style alternative that is readily available – and indeed is often just thrown away.  Our view is ‘consume less, consume responsibly’ and – if in doing this you can cut waste and reliance on fossil fuels – then all the better.  Let’s use what we have today.”

Independent research commissioned by LHCA in 2020 found no direct link between the number of cattle reared for meat and dairy production and buying leather, suggesting that hides are here to stay and should be used in the fight to introduce a more sustainable fashion industry.  It used 25 years of government price data for premium US steer hides which averaged $36 per piece, or just 2.2% of the total value of the animal, in recent years. Due to price, these hides were most likely to have a direct influence on cattle numbers, but no evidence was found.

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