Most Christmas Jumpers Contribute to the Plastic Crisis: Environmental Charity
Mon, April 19, 2021

Most Christmas Jumpers Contribute to the Plastic Crisis: Environmental Charity

Christmas is the season that encourages people to wear their favorite Christmas jumpers or sweaters with pride / Photo by: RTimages via Shutterstock

 

Christmas is the season that encourages people to wear their favorite Christmas jumpers or sweaters with pride. An environmental charity in the UK has, however, warned that the eye-catching festive knitwear adds to the world's plastic pollution crisis.

The Fashion Industry and Environmental Impact

A study conducted by environmental charity Hubbub reveals that 95% of the seasonal garments found in the UK are made partly or wholly using plastic. Expecting about 12 million Christmas jumpers to be sold this year, the charity encouraged the retailers and shoppers to “consider the environment” by either swapping their old Christmas jumpers or purchasing only second-hand ones. Based on their estimates, there were 65 million Christmas jumpers sold last year, so people can use those instead of buying new ones.

Their study highlights that the process of making clothes is resource-intensive such that it requires manpower, water, land, chemicals, and fossil fuels. Some fibers also pollute the rivers and oceans, thus, entering the world’s food chain.

Survey About the Festive Tops

A Hubbub spokeswoman said via BBC that Christmas jumpers are the “worst examples of fast fashion.” She also warned that the habits of consumers are threatening our planet. Their survey involving 3,000 UK adults finds that two-fifths of Christmas jumpers are worn only once, which is during the Christmas season. Furthermore, one in three people below 35 years old purchase a new sweater every year and only 29% of UK shoppers are aware that the majority of Christmas jumpers sold contain plastic.

The environmental charity analyzed a total of 108 Christmas jumpers available this Christmas season from 11 online and high street retailers. Three-quarters of these festive tops contained acrylic, which is plastic fiber, while 44% were made wholly of acrylic.

A 2016 study by Plymouth University reveals that acrylic was the culprit for releasing about 730,000 microfibers per wash. This is five times the pollution compared to a polyester-cotton blend fabric and about 1.5 times the pollution released as pure polyester. The University of Plymouth examined the size, abundance, and mass of fibers present in waste discharged following the washings of synthetic fibers at a standard temperature. 

Their research appeared in the maritime journal Marine Pollution Bulletin and was led by international expert of microplastics and marine debris Imogen Napper. The paper reads that in the next few decades, the quantity of microplastic found in the environment will increase and have potentially harmful effects if ingested.

Hubbub’s creative partner Sara Divall also said that many consumers are unaware of the damage that their shopping habits are creating for the environment. While many of them are concerned about plastics in the oceans, they don’t realize that even the clothes they’re wearing also contain plastic. 

This does not mean that people should not have fun at Christmas. They “should still enjoy,” but just not spend lots of money on something that they’re probably just going to wear once.

The clothing company Beyond Retro is one retailer that sells ethical Christmas clothing. They are known to recover Christmas jumpers from various landfill sites in the country and re-style them to sell online and in-store. Beyond Retro has been featured by UK daily Sky News.

Beyond Retro’s store manager Diva Stoilova said that the retailers should “do their bit.” For their part, they have re-styled Christmas jumpers with designs of animals, bells, and without bells, among others. She further encouraged other people to restyle their jumpers; they are even willing to provide them with ideas on how to do so.

The growing market for new styles and cheap items is taking a toll on the world’s environment. The fashion industry is even the second largest polluter in the world after the oil industry. In most nations where garments are produced, untreated toxic wastewaters are released from textile factories and flow directly into the rivers. Such wastewater contains toxic substances, including arsenic, mercury, and lead, which are extremely harmful not only to aquatic life but the health of those living near the river banks.

Three-quarters of these festive tops contained acrylic, which is plastic fiber, while 44% were made wholly of acrylic / Photo by: New Africa via Shutterstock

 

The Environmental Cost of the Apparel Industry

Sustain Your Style, a platform that informs fashion consumers about the current environmental and social issues of the industry, shares that 20% of industrial water pollution comes from dying and textile treatment. Also, 200,000 tons of dyes are lost to effluents (liquid waste) every year and 90% of wastewater in developing nations is released into rivers without treatment. 

To produce 1 kg of cotton, up to 20,000 liters of water is needed and this generates great pressure on the already scarce resources. Worldwide, 780 million people do not have access to improved water resources. This is why buying better quality clothes is encouraged rather than buying those of lesser quality that may not last long and end up in landfills.

Management consulting company McKinsey & Company likewise said that clothing production has doubled from 2000 to 2014. The number of garments purchased every year by an average consumer also grew by 60%.