That thing you bought at Primark?
I have only once been to this emporium, the week its megastore opened opposite Selfridge's, and unable to stop myself buying something I purchased a bronze green anorak thing which I wear in wet weather to go to the shops. It cost £10.
As far as the eye could see was a top. In every size and every colour. The same top. A whole room of one top.
Where does that cheap crap from Primark go when no-one wants it anymore? A long and informative piece in the Times today tells the depressing tale.
In his textile recycling factory on the industrial outskirts of East London, Lawrence Barry wades across a floor feet-deep in other people's discarded clothing. Above him, precarious fabric dunes lean against the walls and reach up to the corrugated iron roof. The air is heavy with mothballs and the sweet, cloying stench of stale sweat.
There was a time, 58-year-old Barry says, when the clothes coming into his warehouse reeked of love, instead. “People used to buy a good-quality suit and that was it. That was their suit,” he says. “The clothes that ended up here were worn to death, treasured, loved.” Now the 100 workers at LMB Textile Recycling spend their days sorting through the detritus of our addiction to throwaway fashion - cheap, synthetic, often unworn, rarely loved. And Barry and his employees have unwittingly found themselves at the cutting edge of British eco-policy.
Textiles have never been a great concern for keen-to-be-seen-to-be-green governments that get more brownie points from an easy tonne of glass or paper. But the textile problem has become too vast to ignore.
In February the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will launch a “sustainable clothing roadmap” to try to reduce the environmental impact of our clothes. In preparation, it has commissioned a series of studies in which the true extent of our shopping habit is revealed in stark detail.
In the past five years, with the rise of “value retailers” such as Primark, H&M and TK Maxx, and supermarket fashion ranges, the price of clothing in the UK has plummeted by up to 25 per cent. At the same time, the amount of clothes we buy has increased by almost 40 per cent to more than two million tonnes a year.
Instead of two annual seasons for clothes - winter and summer - we are now offered, and can afford, new apparel every few weeks. We buy fresh holiday wardrobes, which we wear for a fortnight. Our style icons are celebrities who are never seen in the same outfit twice. And as our high street stores reel from the credit crunch, still we are cashing in - packing out the shops, desperate for discounted clothes.
As a result, textiles have become the fastest-growing waste product in the UK. About 74 per cent of those two million tonnes of clothes we buy each year end up in landfills, rotting slowly (or not at all) in a mass of polyester, viscose and acrylic blends.