Have you noticed just what you can get at your local supermarket these days? It’s no longer just fruit and veg, people today are throwing fashion for all the family into the trolley on top of yoghurts and frozen peas. Over the past few years big retailers like Tesco in the UK, Migros in Switzerland, Hofer in Austria or Lidl in Germany have started to take a bigger and bigger slice of the non-food retail pie. In Germany, retailers like Aldi, Lidl and Tchibo are now counted among the top ten for fashion sales.
Twice a week, new batches of inexpensive clothing find their way onto supermarket shelves and the amount being sold continues to grow every year. Retailers like to tell us that they are producing fashionable clothing at an affordable price, often targeting families with small children but it turns out they are hiding a toxic secret.
A new report by Greenpeace Germany has revealed that this story is nothing more than an excuse to sell large amounts of cheap goods tainted with chemical contamination. Our testing revealed the presence of different hazardous chemicals in clothing sold by nine well-known retail giants – from Aldi and Lidl in Germany to Hofer and Interspar in Austria to Migros in Switzerland. The highest concentrations of the chemical group, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), one of which is known to be carcinogenic to humans, were found in stylish children’s footwear such as clogs and boots.
But toxic-free fashion doesn’t have to be an expensive luxury. Amongst the 20 companies committed to Detox, other big retailers like Marks & Spencer in the UK and Coop in Switzerland have proved that a high-turnover retail model can also mean toxic-free production.
Hand-in-hand with the need to combat their toxic-trail, Greenpeace is calling on these retail leaders to consider the entire life cycle of their goods, from sourcing and manufacturing to disposal. Toxic-free manufacturing offers the perfect starting point to rethink how our products are made, working towards a truly ‘closed-loop’ system of production that ensures the things we buy produce less waste and can be recycled instead of simply thrown away.
Some forward-thinking Detox committed companies such as Marks & Spencer and H&M are already leading the way, starting to incorporate closed-loop textiles into their supply chain. Both have launched take-back programmes and offer upcycling collections. These pioneers have recognised that the resource-hungry ‘buy often and cheaply’ business model results in a vast amounts of waste – both in production and as a consequence of clothes being discarded after purchase.
If they can do it, why can’t the rest of the sector?
With their ever-increasing footprint, big retail stores have the potential and the scale to change the way our clothes and products are made, offering products that are fully recyclable, affordable and toxic-free.
Dr. Kirsten Brodde is a Toxics Campaigner for Greenpeace Germany.
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