Photos by Igor Vermeer
A Waste of Energy?
The first H&M store was founded 70 years ago in Västerås, a city North-West of Stockholm. Today, Västerås is home to a waste-to-energy power plant that burns unsold clothes from the fast-fashion industry. Deadstock—the leftover garments that fashion brands fail to sell—is a growing problem. Although deadstock is an inevitable product of our current consumer society, global warming is often blamed for the increasing volume of clothing waste, with changing weather making it difficult to predict what people will buy.
Burning unsold clothes is a common solution, with new waste-to-energy power plants being marketed as creating “clean energy” around the world. New, unworn clothes are classified as junk by one industry and fuel by another. A problem amplified by the unpredictability of climate change is touted as a resource to combat it, promising a kind of circularity, where the power generated could be used to make yet more clothes. But is this really the best approach to using our resources or does it simply condone the wastefulness of our consumer culture?
In A Waste of Energy? Fred Erik presents the lifespan of a piece of clothing, from raw material to product, product to deadstock, and deadstock to energy. The installation illustrates the lifespan of a product and amplifies the absurdity of this modern phenomenon where products that consume masses of energy in production are destroyed under the banner of sustainability.
Thanks to the staff of the Mälarenergi waste-to-energy power plant, Västerås, Sweden
H&M Group Sustainability Report 2018 Link
Elizabeth Paton, “H&M, a Fashion Giant, Has a Problem: $4.3 Billion in Unsold Clothes,” New York Times, March 27, 2018. Link
Elizabeth Segran, “H&M, Zara, and other fashion brands are tricking shoppers with vague sustainability claims,” Fast Company, July 8, 2019. Link
Elizabeth Segran, “Your H&M addiction is wreaking havoc on the environment. Here’s how to break it,” Fast Company, February 3, 2019. Link
Emma Hope Allwood, “It’s not just Burberry—burning clothes is fashion’s dirty open secret,” Dazed, July 25, 2018. Link
Heather Farmbrough, “H&M Is Pushing Sustainability Hard, But Not Everyone Is Convinced,” Forbes, April 14, 2018. Link
Jesper Starn, “A Power Plant Is Burning H&M Clothes Instead of Coal,” Bloomberg, November 24, 2017. Link
Julia Sachs, “Can H&M’s Sustainable Clothing Line Make Up For The Damage Fast Fashion Has Already Caused?” GritDaily, May 2, 2019. Link
Katherine Martinko, “H&M Blames Weather for Unsold Clothing,” Treehugger, October 11, 2018. Link
Katherine Martinko, “Norway Challenges H&M on Its Sustainability Claims,” Treehugger, July 4, 2019. Link
Lacy Cooke, “This Swedish power plant is burning H&M clothes instead of fossil fuels,” Inhabitat, November 24, 2017. Link
Lloyd Alter, “In Sweden, They Are Burning H&M Clothing Instead of Coal,” Treehugger, October 11, 2018. Link
Marc Bain, “Fashion retailers are trapped in a vicious cycle,” Quartz, February 27, 2019. Link
Marc Bain, “H&M’s ‘sustainability’ report hides the unsustainable reality of fast fashion,” Quartz, April 12, 2015. Link
Fred Erik is a speculative designer and researcher with a fascination for the endlessly evolving world he lives in. Technological leaps make him wonder about how his living environment could, and inevitably will, look like. As a designer he feels the urge to respond to these impulses, to speculate about what is still intangible.