students happy

Could it really come without ribbons, tags, packages, boxes and bags?

Posted: 5th January 2022

waste wrapping paper and packaging

These shorter winter days of the Christmas season have sped by, leaving a wave of left-overs, empty champagne bottles and, of course, unwanted gifts. We all know that Christmas has become a predominantly commercial holiday, but I’ve come to realise now that the real waste is made not in the run-up to December 25th, but in the days, weeks, even months that follow.

I only really came to this realisation when, within the first minutes of Boxing Day, I began frantically scrolling through apps and websites, looking for the best bargain. And for what? There was nothing I needed — and if there was, I would have asked for it to be given to me on the previous day — but suddenly, I wanted everything I laid my eyes on, as long as the original price had been crossed out and was replaced with a bold red number, hardly lower than the one beside it. I’ve never before felt the urge to buy a horoscope necklace from Mango, but when it’s £6 cheaper, maybe I should lean into the stubborn, blunt and possessive qualities that a random internet search told me matched my star sign.

While one little necklace may seem a completely harmless purchase, if we expand our views to consider all of the other items of clothing (let alone the toys and appliances) that are put on sale, simply because so many were produced that they physically couldn’t all be sold, it’s actually easy to imagine the piles of waste that the holidays produce.

BBC Earth reported that every year around 100 billion new garments are made from new fibres, and are likely to soon end up in landfill, with about a tenth of global carbon emissions each year produced by the fashion industry, which obviously peaks at holiday seasons, when demand for specific pieces (such as swimsuits in the summer or fluffy socks in the winter) increases. Moreover, in order to produce these garments, an estimated amount of around 1.5 trillion litres of water is used, as well as materials like rayon and viscose, polyester and nylon, which are sourced through the destruction of wild habitats, and, when they are dumped in landfill, poison wildlife. This is all not to mention the emissions caused by the transportation of garments to buyers all across the world — and the exploitation of workers, some of whom are still being locked in factories, rarely given breaks to eat or use the toilet, forced into accommodation to make sure they are constantly monitored, and who live and work in dismal, squalid conditions, just so we can get that one t-shirt that everyone else has, which we’ll wear an estimated average of 7 times, before letting it fall the the back of our wardrobes or, worse still, throwing it away.

But that’s O.K., right? Who cares about the world and the people around us when we can get a £1 bikini from Missguided in the end-of-season sale?

It’s evident that the fashion industry is as big a mess as the dumps in which our former favourite outfits are now laying, like some lifeless corpses, with no chance of revival. And when the world is on the brink of its demise, it’s strange that we’re still so obsessed with…well…stuff.

Although I’m not a business student, the marketing and selling techniques of these huge companies is so blatantly obvious, and yet so easily overseen: make, make, make (underpaying the employees that are actually doing the making, and not giving a single thought to the materials or methods used), then sell, sell, sell — and when everyone has bought their Christmas presents, put all the leftovers on sale, so the same stuff can be bought again, just in a different colour, because it’s now half price. You see, they profit no matter what.

But, thankfully, I’ve spent these days after Christmas thinking about what we can do to reduce our roles in this heinous crime against nature, and even our fellow humans.

The first idea is simple: stop buying. It seems so difficult to resist clicking on that gorgeous jumper you’ve been eyeing all season, but if you still have a whole pile of other jumpers in your wardrobe that have gotten you this far into the winter, who cares if they’re a little old? If they still fit and they’re not completely falling apart, there’s no reason not to be wearing them until that sad day comes.

Which brings me to my second point — if you do put something on and notice a fray or split in the hem, the item is still salvageable, so don’t even think about throwing it away. Not only is it a waste of the clothes themselves, it’s a complete waste of your money to be disregarding entirely mendable clothes; and even if you can’t do it yourself, ask a parent, friend, even take it to a tailor to fix, just as long as you’re getting as much out of that piece as you told yourself you would when you first justified picking it out and taking it to the till.

But if it does turn out that you really can no longer wear something (maybe it doesn’t fit anymore, or you don’t have anything that actually goes with it as well as you had imagined), you can always take it to a thrift or vintage shop, or put it for sale online — or better still, drop it off at a charity shop. I don’t mean to brag, but, after finding proper designer shoes, dust-bag and all, for £25 at a Cancer Research UK, I don’t plan on buying new, fast fashion clothes for a long time. There is a strange sort of stigma associated with these second-hand bargains, and many maintain that they don’t want to be taking stock away from those who are too poor to buy first hand, but that’s something that needs to be completely cut away; there are plenty of already-produced clothes for everyone to have enough, especially if everyone was more honest with themselves and gave up the clothes that they have only secretly admitted to no longer wanting. Also, if you think you’re doing someone less fortunate a favour by forcing them to seek out a shop for a simple t-shirt, while you can buy the same one for £2 on PrettyLittleThing, you need to confront your delusions now. Moreover, while it is shocking that people need to be reminded that buying from charity shops is an actively good thing, it is still worth pointing out that every penny spent is donated, and even the workers at the shops are all volunteers.

And if money is a real concern for you, go raid someone else’s wardrobe, and find something you like that they don’t wear anymore. Borrowing or swapping from friends, siblings or even parents is, in my opinion, the easiest way to minimise how much you spend on clothes, and how much clutter builds up in your room. In fact, I can confidently say that, within every single outfit I wear, at least one item is borrowed or a hand-me-down from a family member. If it’s lasted this many years since your oldest cousin wore it, you know it’s good enough quality for you to wear for the rest of the season.

But, if all else fails, and you have no clothes, or the ones you do have seem to have been massacred by moths, or there’s not a single second-hand item that fits you, or you’re an only child with a completely different build or taste from all or your relatives or friends (essentially, if you really do need to buy first-hand, new clothes) buy from sustainable brands. A quick Google search will give you everything you need, such as a list of sustainable companies that are local and market to your exact demographic. You may find that the same basic t-shirt costs a little bit more than the one from PrettyLittleThing, but, in the long run, when you don’t have to be re-buying the same item three or four times a year, your clothes will cost about the same, and you won’t even have to consider the unplayable cost of the damage done to the planet. Instead you can think about how much you love this new jumper, or t-shirt, or pair of jeans, or shoes, and how happy you are to finally have what you’ve wanted since you made your wish-list in October — and isn’t that what Christmas is really about?

By Sarah Clif