That holiday wardrobe

The number of people travelling abroad remains at a record high but, in these environmentally aware times, there’s no getting away from the fact that our foreign holidays and travel plans can have a detrimental effect on the planet. While the impact of flights is well documented, there are some, more subtle ways that your vacation could be costing the earth.

According to a recent ABTA report, UK travelers now spend a staggering £45.7bn in the UK before they even reach the departure lounge – that's more than the amount they spend abroad (2017: £44.8bn). All of these pre-holiday purchases create carbon emissions and environmental damage, so let’s take a look at some simple ways to make your pre-holiday purchases as eco-friendly as possible.

After duty free shopping, the second biggest pre-holiday spend is on clothes and accessories (a whopping £2.6bn in total). The UNFCCC secretariat (UN Climate Change) reports that around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the fashion industry, consuming more energy than the aviation and shipping industries combined. 

In addition to its carbon intensive supply chain and production processes, the fashion industry consumes a vast amount of other precious resources. To make just one pair of denim jeans, 10,000 litres of water is required to grow the one kilo of cotton needed to produce them - it would take one person 10 years to drink that amount of water! The fashion industry produces about 20% of waste water globally. Furthermore, 85% of textiles end up in landfills or are incinerated when most of these materials could be reused.

In 2017 Burberry destroyed unsold clothes, accessories and perfume worth £28.6m to protect its brand. Obviously most of us won’t be doing our pre-holiday shop at Burberry but this is a practice other, mainstream retailers such as Nike and H&M have reportedly adopted. The fact that most modern-day clothing is made from synthetic materials is a huge issue – a UK parliamentary committee report on sustainability and the fashion industry published earlier this year noted that the incineration of clothes made from synthetic fibres may release plastic microfibres into the atmosphere, harming human health. The release of polyester and nylon fibres into the atmosphere during the production phase has also been linked to lung disease in workers, especially in poorly ventilated workplaces.

Image by margostock/Shutterstock

These synthetic fibres aren’t just an issue in the atmosphere - if taken to landfill they do not biodegrade. Britons binned 300,000 tonnes of textiles in 2017. Estimates also suggest that as much as 20% to 35% of all primary source microplastics in the marine environment are fibres from synthetic clothing, and the amount is increasing. A single 6kg domestic wash has the potential to release as many as 700,000 fibres, which have been found in the food chain after being consumed by fish.

What Action Can I Take?

  1. Do you really need that new bikini, those flip flops or that pair of shorts? Consumption of new clothing is estimated to be higher in the UK than any other European country. Question why you need each new item; are you just being sucked in by fashion brands and social pressures to have the latest products? If you hold back, you’ll also have more money in your pocket to spend on making memories that last a lifetime – it’s a win-win!
  2. Buy things that are good quality and in timeless styles, then you’ll only have to buy once. Some items are expensive but not actually good quality; make sure you check things such as stitching, fabric thickness, zips and buttons.
  3. If you are intent on clearing our last year’s holiday clothes, think about donating them to charity if they are still wearable or drop them off at your local recycling centre if they are no longer usable. Many large retailers are recycling clothes themselves now so you could check whether the shop will take them back too.
  4. Consider purchasing second hand items rather than brand new. This could be by supporting your local charity shop, or you can often find nearly new or brand-new items for a fraction of the price online. Who doesn’t love a bargain?!
  5. Finally, think about purchasing clothing made from natural fibres rather than synthetic. Although they require more water and land to produce, they are at least biodegradable. They’ll keep you cooler if you’re going somewhere nice and warm too!