Fashion industry on a ‘watchlist’ over climate impact

Keira Jenkins |

Australians purchase on average an estimated 56 items of clothing each year.
Australians purchase on average an estimated 56 items of clothing each year.

With 200,000 tonnes of clothing ending up in landfill each year, the federal environment minister has the fashion industry in her sights. 

Tanya Plibersek is considering government regulations on the sector to slash the mountain of clothing ending up in landfill and improve textile recycling. 

“Environmental standards are still woeful,” Ms Plibersek said.

“So woeful in fact that the fashion industry is responsible for 10 per cent of humanity’s carbon emissions – more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined.”

Charities are being overwhelmed by donations of low-quality fast fashion and consumers keep buying more.

The average Australian purchases 56 items of clothing each year, according to the Australian Fashion Council. 

At an industry event on Wednesday, Ms Plibersek said she had been part of the problem, buying things without considering the clothing’s “life-cycle” or whether she actually needed it. 

Ultimately, she said the fashion industry must not rely on consumer preferences alone to change consumption habits.

“If it’s the fashion industry that makes the profits, then it must be responsible for doing better by the environment,” she said.

In June 2023 Ms Plibersek launched an industry-led scheme, called Seamless, which asks clothing importers and those who make garments in Australia to pay a levy of four cents per item. 

“The federal government has put the fashion industry on a watch list – signalling our strong expectation that industry needed to take action to reduce clothing sent to landfill,” she said.

Participation in the scheme is voluntary but Big W, Rip Curl, The Iconic, RM Williams, David Jones, Lorna Jane, Sussan and Cotton On are among those who have already signed up. 

Ms Plibersek said while she wanted to give the industry an opportunity to participate “off their own bat”, she’d like to see more fashion retailers signed up for Seamless.

“The option is if the fashion industry don’t get it together I’ve made very clear that I’m prepared to regulate,” she told ABC Radio.