The Carnival season is just around the corner. People all around the world, from Brasil to Italy and Spain, dress up and go out to celebrate with their friends or families. In Spain, the Carnival is one of the greatest occasions and is celebrated all week with colorful parades, innovative costumes, street parties and concerts (Figure 1: The traditional carnival parade from the Galician village Verín, Ourense, Spain). It is quite common that people dress up as their favorite singers, fictional characters or just put on an animal jumpsuit for the celebration. In fact, it would be considered strange if you haven’t dressed up. But what about the environmental impact of these costumes?
Each year more than 92 million tons of waste are generated throughout the supply chain of the fashion and apparel industry. In fact the majority of this waste unfortunately ends up in landfills or incinerators (Moda Re, 2021). According to the Iberian Association for Textile Recycling, the volume of clothing that Spaniards throw away annually is stated as 8 kg per person (Asirtex, 2016). Considering the population of Spain is 47,398,695 inhabitants for the first half of 2021 (INE, 2021), the volume of clothing waste could be estimated as 379,190 tons which would fill up 27,085 large dump trucks.
These figures become more striking when we consider the environmental impact of the textile industry during the production process. The apparel industry holds 6.7 % of the global GHG emissions which is about 3.3 billion metric tons of CO2 -eq. (Quantis, 2018). It is also reported that the fashion industry is one of the most water intensive industries. In 2015, 200 tons of water was used to produce a ton of textile (Niinimäki et al., 2020). For instance, to produce one t-shirt and a pair of jeans 20,000 liters of water is required which is equivalent to the water consumption of 60 households in Spain (Armstrong, 2019; see in Figure 2). But intensive water use is not the only major environmental impact, poorly treated wastewater also threatens the local water bodies as it might contain toxic chemicals (Niinimäki et al., 2020).
Fig.2. Estimated water required for the production of one t-shirt and a pair of jeans (Armstrong, 2019).
So, what can we do as consumers to reduce our environmental footprint while still enjoying the carnival celebration? First and foremost, we can start by reducing our consumption and increasing the lifetime of the garments (EMF, 2017) – not only for occasional costumes like for the carnival, but also for all types of apparels like t-shirts and jeans. To do so, we should wear a t-shirt or pair of jeans more than 3-4 times and if it tears we should repair it. In fact, Claudia Rodríguez, who is an expert focusing on the integration of sustainability and circular economy practices at Alén and has extensive knowledge on the fashion industry along with other sectors, suggests that it would be a great solution to encourage consumers – especially youngsters – to buy durable garments or repair them through DIY customization, or tailoring, for example.
Another alternative can be to increase the number of users per product (EMF, 2017), specifically for special events like the carnival. Claudia Rodríguez specifically indicated that the carnival costumes are mostly made of low-quality materials with greater environmental impacts, e.g. polyester. So, rather than wearing one time and throwing them away, we can rent costumes from stores or we can exchange costumes with our friends or family members. Indeed, cultural practices could play a major role in the adoption of sustainability practices, specifically reducing consumption. For instance, Claudia states that in A Coruña, Spain there is this tradition called “choqueiros” (the lexical meaning is dressing up any outfit) and celebrated on Shrove Tuesday where local people just put on any outfit they have at their homes.
Rodriguez also highlighted that it is essential to increase the number of online platforms for renting or exchanging clothes for special events including carnival costumes. This is also an alternative for our daily outfits. We can consider buying second-hand clothes both from online platforms or real shops which is a good alternative to keep the garments within the economy as much as possible. If we have clothes in good shape but we do not wear them anymore, instead of throwing them away we can give them to second-hand shops or donate it to the associations like Caritas for further uses.
There are also brands that collect unused garments for repair and reuse. They sort the ones which can be worn and donate them to charity organizations, the ones which are broken they repair or the ones which cannot be used anymore are used for other purposes like turning them into rags.
Above mentioned practices can seem not so significant however we should keep in mind that if we all make these small changes in our lifestyles it can lead to greater results. Although it is quite hard to shift towards more sustainable consumption because systems are complex, we, as a society including both the industry and the consumers, should begin from somewhere. So, in this carnival season let’s consider our environment and instead of buying and throwing a costume let’s borrow or rent them.
Happy sustainable and safe carnival!
Postdoctoral researcher at EU 1.5 Lifestyles project
Universidade da Coruña
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- Asirtex (Asociación Ibérica de Reciclaje Textil), 2016. LA ROPA USADA. Tendencias de un mercado emergente. El residuo olvidado en el siglo XXI. Available at https://www.asirtex.org/la-ropa-usada-tendencias-de-un-mercado-emergente-el-residuo-olvidado-en-el-siglo-xxi/
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017. A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future. Ellen MacArthur Found. 1–150.
- INE (Instituto Nacional de Estadística/National Statistics Institute), 2021. Cifras de Población. Datos definitivos 01/01/2021 y provisionales 01/07/202. Available at: https://www.ine.es/dyngs/INEbase/es/operacion.htm?c=Estadistica_C&cid=1254736176951&menu=ultiDatos&idp=1254735572981
- Moda Re, 2021. ANALISIS DE LA RECOGIDA DE LA ROPA USADA EN ESPANA. Available at: https://modare.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Analisis-de-la-recogida-de-la-ropa-usada-en-Espana.pdf
- Niinimäki, K., Peters, G., Dahlbo, H., Perry, P., Rissanen, T., Gwilt, A., 2020. The environmental price of fast fashion. Nat. Rev. Earth Environ. 1, 189–200. https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-020-0039-9
- Quantis, 2018. Measuring Fashion: Insights from the Environmental Impact of the Global Apparel and Footwear Industries. Available at https://quantis-intl.com/report/measuring-fashion-report/
Fig1. Cigarrones (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/94/Cigarrones.jpg)
Fig2.: The insatiable thirst of Fashion (https://www.statista.com/chart/19164/insatiable-thirst-of-fashion/)