Study: Renting clothes is not as “green” as throwing them away

July 9, 2021

A recent study performed by the Finnish scientific journal, Environmental Research Letters, has discovered that renting clothing  actually is worse for the planet than just throwing them away, The National Digest reports.

The study specifically looked at the environmental impact of five different ways of owning and disposing of clothing–among them,  renting, resale, and recycling.

The researchers—colleagues at the Department of Sustainability Science, LUT University— say in their paper, “renting clothes had the highest climate impact of all. The hidden environmental cost was found to be delivery and packaging costs. Renting involves a large amount of transportation, taking the clothes back and forth between the warehouse and the renter. Dry cleaning is also harmful to the environment.”

However, the aura of sustainability around such companies as New York City-based Rent the Runway has helped to make them popular and profitable: According to GlobalData, the rental clothing industry is expected to be valued at $2.3 billion by 2029.

Conversely, a report from The World Economic Forum suggested that the industry has already generated 5% of global emissions.

According to The National Digest, Dana Thomas, author of ‘Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes, wrote that, instead of relying on rental clothing to solve fashion’s environmental crisis, the concept should just be completely recategorized.

“We should think of renting like secondhand shopping. It’s not something we do all the time, instead of buying our clothes and swapping out outfits nonstop; but on occasion, when the need arises, like proms or weddings.”

“Many rental brands misuse the term circular economy— the system where clothes are passed from person to person before being recycled—as a form of greenwashing.

“No executive wants to overhaul their business, and that’s what ‘going green’ will require— not tweaks, but an entire overhaul. They are too focused on short-term gains to invest in long-term benefits,” Thomas explained.

“Only regulation will solve that problem. No company, in any industry, will volunteer to take a loss for the sake of the planet. They’ll do so when it’s the law. The biggest obstacle is greed.”

The study concluded that if rental companies change their logistics to make the process by which they rent out clothes more environmentally friendly, then renting would be sustainable at the same level as reselling.

Research contact: @nationaldigest

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