The clothing rental industry has challenged the findings of a recent high-profile report that renting clothing is “less environmentally friendly than throwing it away,” based on the environmental impacts of transportation and dry cleaning.
The study, published by the Finnish scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, assessed the environmental impact of five different ways of owning and disposing of clothing, including rental, resale and recycling.
“We believe rental needs to be looked at closely to make it as ‘green’ as possible, but we are concerned that encouraging people to throw away their clothes is not helping the industry, let alone the planet,” says Tamsin Chislett, CEO and co-founder of the rental company Onloan.
The study’s assumptions about transport, based on a Finnish company, do not reflect the reality of the UK rental market, according to Chislett. The study was modeled on each rented item collected by a car trip. Companies like Onloan and Hirestreet send clothes by post, while My Wardrobe HQ uses bicycle couriers and electric vans. There are also physical businesses that allow customers to choose parts on foot, including HURR at Selfridges and My Wardrobe at Harrods.
Transportation was a key area of review in the study, which said that, given that “the use of rental services is likely to increase customer mobility, and if that happens on a large scale”, so clothing rental is likely to have a greater global warming potential than resale or recycling.
The study also highlighted the environmental damage caused by dry cleaning. However, Onloan and My Wardrobe say they use wet cleaning and liquid CO2 cleaning, especially to avoid the environmental impact of dry cleaning.
Sustainability consultant Alice Wilby says the “scale and intent” of the individual rental companies is key to minimizing the impact. She cautions against comparing small rental companies that use sustainable practices with big brands that are now embracing rental.
The Wrap charity estimates that around £ 140million worth of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK each year, while the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimated in a 2017 report that more than half of fashion products fast are eliminated in less than a year.
According to Isabella West of Hirestreet, a party clothing rental service, some of their items have been worn more than 40 times, with some styles booked every weekend by September. My Wardrobe HQ claims they can extend the life of a garment up to 15 times.
Extending the life of clothing by an additional nine months reduces its carbon, water and waste footprints each by about 20-30%, and cuts the cost of resources used to supply, wash and dispose of clothing by 20%, according to the Global. Fashion Agenda and Boston Consulting Group report.
Wilby recognizes that keeping the clothes in circulation is not enough on its own. “The majority of clothes for rent are not made from sustainable materials and have not been ethically produced. It’s also not really circular, as we still don’t have large-scale fabric-to-fabric recycling facilities for every type and mix of fabric we make and rent. She questions what happens to rental clothes at the end of their life and wants to see “rental integrated into a circular system of regenerative agriculture and the production of soil-to-soil clothes and equity for farmers and farmers. producers ”.
“There is simply no alternative to buying less, buying ethical products and taking the best care of them,” says Wilby. “Even though rental clothes are transported by electric van and cleaned at low impact, those clothes will be transported and washed more often than anything the customer owns privately. Renting as a means of slowing down customer consumption and industry output is a great solution, but it needs to be part of a system overhaul.