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Japan’s public and private sectors are set to collaborate on reducing the environmental burden caused by the fashion industry.

The fashion sector is said to be the second-biggest source of environmental pollution in the world, after the oil industry, as it emits huge amounts of carbon dioxide and consumes vast amounts of water in processes from material procurement to production, transport and disposal.

An Environment Ministry survey found that clothing weighing 819,000 tons in total was supplied in Japan in 2020. Households and companies let go of 787,000 tons of clothes in the same year, with only about 150,000 tons of the total reused and some 120,000 tons recycled. The remaining 510,000 tons was disposed of as waste.

The amount of carbon dioxide emitted each year during processes related to clothes supplied in Japan, from production to disposal, stands at 95 million tons — accounting for 4.5% of the total emissions from the global fashion industry.

The water consumption involved, including to grow cotton and for dyeing, comes to 8.38 billion cubic meters, making up 9.0% of the total for the industry around the world.

With imports accounting for most of the clothing items supplied in Japan, the nation’s fashion industry relies on its environmental burden falling on other countries, experts say.

“Our fashion is supported by a lot of materials from and environmental burdens in other countries,” Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said in an online meeting on April 21 with representatives from 11 Japanese firms involved in the industry, including sporting goods maker Asics Corp., apparel maker Adastria Co. and trader Itochu Corp.

“We need to switch from mass production, mass consumption and mass disposal to moderate production and purchase, and cyclical use,” he added.

The companies plan to set up a consortium on fashion and the environment around this summer. They will create a system to jointly collect used clothing to promote reuse and recycling, and study a unified method to gauge the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during the processes of making and selling apparel items. The group will also make policy proposals to the government.

The Environment Ministry will support the group’s efforts, in cooperation with other government agencies. Specifically, it will study model projects on the collection and recycling of used clothing, and the calculation of carbon dioxide emissions.

“We hope that the fashion-related movements will encourage people to think about environmental issues and climate change,” an official of the ministry said.

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