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UK’s Waste Reduction Week tackles the fast fashion industry

The UK Recycling department will be debuting their first-ever Waste Reduction Week (WRW) set to take place between April 12 and April 16.

WRW was founded by two waste reduction interns at UK Recycling, Olivia Tussey and Bethany Schagane, who started the event as part of their internship to encourage students to be more mindful about the environment and to do their part in taking care of the planet through recycling.

“The goal of the week is to educate the campus not only on how much waste we as humans generate (Americans throw away up to five pounds of trash per day), but to also encourage students to take whatever steps they can to reduce this waste,” said Tussey, a junior at UK. “Learning about these things can be shocking and overwhelming, but the most important thing to remember is that cutting back our resource footprints and impact on the environment is an imperfect process! You will make mistakes, but that does not mean that your effort is not meaningful and necessary!”

Activities that will take place during the five-day event include a car troubleshooting demonstration, a pop-up thrift store on campus that will distribute previously-owned clothing to other students, the screenings of a couple documentaries that focus on different environmental topics such as food waste and the fast fashion industry and more.

“I came into this position already very passionate about the environment and waste issues; I have dozens of reusable/zero-waste items I use in my everyday life, and it's something I love to learn and talk to others about,” Tussey said. “Because of this, I almost immediately started brainstorming about some version of a zero-waste week to create as my independent project. My mentor got on board with the idea as soon as I pitched it to her, and then Bethany decided to incorporate her idea for a thrift store into the overarching week, and from there we really just hit the ground running!”

One of the topics that Tussey and Schagane want to tackle during WRW is the fast fashion industry, one of the largest contributors to global pollution and the source of an abundance of ethical and environmental problems that people who work within the industry face. Fast fashion is one of the largest threats to the wellbeing of the environment, and therefore Tussey and Schagane plan on bringing awareness to this growing problem through their event to shine a light on the industry’s contribution to the environment’s decay.

“Fast fashion is extremely popular for college students given that they don’t often have a large income,” said Schagane, who will be graduating in the spring. “Sustainable fashion can get pretty expensive, so I understand that it’s not feasible for college students on a budget to shell out hundreds of dollars for sustainable clothes … Simply being mindful of your carbon footprint and making purchasing and disposal decisions with that in mind is so helpful. Waste reduction isn’t about one person practicing it perfectly — it’s about millions of people practicing it imperfectly.”

One of the activities that will be taking place during WRW is the screening of “The True Cost,” a 2015 documentary about the grim reality behind the fast fashion industry, the toll it takes on garment workers in developing countries and the fast-growing effect it has on the environment.

Directed by Andrew Morgan, the documentary features experts within the fashion industry as well as economists and farmers who play a role in how the industry functions. They share their thoughts on the fast fashion industry and how they view its role in our society. It also tells the stories of multiple garment workers in developing countries such as Bangladesh, India and Cambodia, allowing them to share their experiences and struggles with the world and giving the audience a direct glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes of the fast fashion industry.

Alongside the documentary screening, Tussey and Schagane will be hosting a thrift store event on campus on April 13, where second-hand clothing will be distributed for free to other students. All the clothing for the thrift store event will be sourced from other students through drop-off, said Schagane.

“There are lots of options for people to reduce their clothing waste: shopping at thrift stores, donating or selling old clothes and swapping clothes with friends are all great ways to extend the life of a piece of clothing,” Schagane said. “There’s no need to break the bank to reduce your clothing waste!

At KRNL, we live and breathe fashion, but we also understand the issues that are within the fashion industry and how they must be addressed. As fast fashion is an industry that many of us participate in on a daily basis, we often don’t think about what goes into producing the clothing that we buy, and therefore those voices and stories get overlooked. But, it’s important for those stories to be told, and it’s important to educate ourselves on this greatly impactful industry and the kinds of challenges it creates.

A quick rundown on the fast fashion industry

Fast fashion is a business model in which clothing companies mass-produce new styles and products at a rapid rate for very low costs. Popular fast fashion retailers such as H&M, Forever 21 and Zara are just a few examples of brands that have adopted this business model and have successfully grown their businesses off of it, but at a cost.

According to the documentary “The True Cost,” fashion is the second biggest polluting industry in the world, just after the oil industry. We purchase over 80 billion new pieces of clothing and dispose of 82 pounds of textile waste per person every year, totaling 11 million tons of waste in the U.S. alone, most of which is not biodegradable.

Alongside its harmful effects on the environment, the fast fashion industry is also known for its exploitation of garment workers in developing countries to manufacture clothing quickly and for cheap. Garment workers in Bangladesh are the lowest paid garment workers in the world, according to the documentary, with a minimum wage of less than $3 a day. This makes making a living for the thousands of workers very difficult, and the work can often be dangerous or even deadly.

In 2013, Rana Plaza, a garment factory in Bangladesh, collapsed killing over 1,000 of the garment workers inside and injuring 2,500 more. The workers in the factory had already pointed out the flaws in the structural integrity of the building and expressed their concerns about their safety, but their concerns were dismissed. The collapse of Rana Plaza was considered one of the darkest days for garment workers everywhere.

The fast fashion industry is problematic in the harm it poses to the environment and the exploited garment workers in underdeveloped countries. Big fast fashion companies’ desire to keep up with quickly-changing trends and new styles is one of the biggest driving forces behind the success of the fashion industry, and consumers’ overconsumption of clothing is what leads to the abundance of clothing and textile waste that ends up in landfills.

But, the responsibility for what the fast fashion industry does to the planet does not lie with the consumers who participate in it simply because some people find that fast fashion is the most affordable and accessible way to obtain clothing for them. Rather, it is the giant corporations and companies that hold the responsibility for the damage their industry is doing to the planet, according to the documentary.

“If you’re operating in a capitalist system, the main thing you have to do is create profit, and you have to create more profit than your competitors,” said Tansy Hoskins, author of “Stitched Up,” in the documentary. By moving their operations to developing countries, the documentary says, fast fashion companies are able to exploit the cheap labor and lack of protection laws for garment workers to produce their products and make a massive profit.

Because our economy is motivated by materialism and profit, the best way to combat the harm that the fast fashion industry does to the environment and exploited workers is to call for systematic change. Of course, there are things that consumers can do to help cut down on their contribution to overconsumption such as purchasing clothes second-hand or from sustainable and ethical brands and only buying clothes when you absolutely need to. But, until the large corporations start to make drastic changes to their business models, there is only so much that can be done.


More information on “Waste Reduction Week” and the thrift store event can be found on the UK Recycling Instagram page @ukyrecycles. The fast fashion documentary “The True Cost” can be viewed for free on YouTube and will be screened during WRW on April 13 at 8 p.m.

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