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Smarter choices required to reduce waste generated by fast fashion and excessive use of white goods

8th February 2023 - Richard Bruton TD

If Ireland evaluated the goods which we import, our Climate Emissions would be 75% higher. Making better choices in our consumption patterns is vital if we are to tackle the global environmental crisis. A Circular Economy strategy can show us how, the Fine Gael Policy Lab has said.

While the target of our international commitments on climate are measured only by the activities within our shores, our consumer choices reveal far more damaging patterns because of the production patterns underpinning our imports.

The 3 million vehicles in our driveways, the 50 gadgets and often bulging wardrobes in our 2.5 million homes, have all taken massive emissions and extraction of materials to create. They create wider problems if they are carelessly discarded, ranging from using up scarce reserves of rare materials, to destroying habitats or polluting our oceans.

In environmental terms, there is a world of difference between:

  • meeting our travel needs by 1 vehicle doing 20 journeys, compared to having 20 vehicles doing just 1;
  • discarding a gadget at the first sign of fault, and undertaking regular repairs to extend its life;
  • dressing up an old outfit with a new accessory, and replacing it by a brand new one for every occasion.

Too often we make the choice with the worst environmental impact without really much thought. The message of Circular thinking is to think about the supply chain when choosing what we buy, in determining the pattern of use, and in deciding how quickly to discard. The evidence shows our vehicles lie idle most of the time. We throw away our clothes after fewer and fewer outings. We typically replace rather than repair.

While there are end of life take-back obligations in some of these sectors, over 75% of recovered material is exported. There is only a very poorly established system for repair or reuse in the country. Recycling rates have stagnated in recent years, while packaging entering the waste stream continues to grow, and too much of it is not recyclable.

The Fine Gael Policy Lab has distilled key recommendations from work with many citizens who know their way around these sectors:

  • Transform consumer attitudes with much better information and strong support for rental, remaking, repair and reuse sectors.
  • Seek Packaging Pledges and Take-Back initiatives from key sectors
  • Convert Bring Centres to Upcycling Centres
  • Vigorously promote Sharing Platforms to ensure high utilisation of assets.
  • Create Ambassadors and Hubs for Sustainable Fashion.

Deputy Richard Bruton, Chairman of Fine Gael’s Parliamentary Party, said: “The potential for reducing the environmental impact of everyday life is great, but it has to be made easier to do.

“Ireland has been slow to develop the infrastructure and targets for recovery, repair, remaking and reuse. Concepts like The Rediscovery Centre, Repair Cafés, or Maker Labs are in their infancy and must be expanded. The Circular Economy Act creates an enormous opportunity to take a lead.”

Lynn Haughton, Designer and Founder of the Upcycle Movement, said: “The Policy Lab kitchens opened up important conversations and offered a space for innovative ideas and solutions to be heard. As someone who is self-employed in the area of repurposing discarded textiles and creating value from these, it meant a lot to share my experiences and suggestions.

“Moving toward a more circular approach brings with it so many exciting opportunities here on our shores – economically, environmentally and socially. It’s a win-win all round.”

“Maria Walsh, Fine Gael MEP for Midlands Northwest said: “The fast fashion sector is the second most polluting industry on the planet and with over half of all garments thrown out in in under a year.

“In developed countries consumption has doubled in the past 15 years to 26kg per person and 21 billion tonnes of textile waste ends up in landfill each year.

“Smart decisions are required now, from individuals, to businesses and in Government policy, to remove the cycle of waste from our lives as well as supply chains.

“At EU level, the Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles is an important strategy to apply circular economy principles to production, products and consumption from which the entire European sector will operate over time.”

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