Renting Clothes Is Less Sustainable Than Throwing Them Away, Study Finds

A recent study performed by the Finnish scientific journal Environmental Research Letters has shown that renting clothes is actually worse for the planet than just throwing them away. Before, renting clothes was thought to be one of the easier solutions when it comes to the sustainability issues the fashion industry has. 

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

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The study found that “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.”

Renting clothing was thought to be one of the more sustainable ways to lessen your impact on the fashion industry’s major sustainability issue. According to GlobalData, the rental clothing industry is expected to be valued at $2.3 billion by 2029. A report from the World Economic Forum suggested that the industry has already generated 5% of global emissions. 

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. 

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“We should think of renting like second-hand 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 in which they rent out clothes more environmentally friendly, then renting would be at the same level as reselling.