As consumers buy more and more clothes, the fast fashion industry has flourished, mass-producing trendy clothing using cheap, exploitative labor, and environmentally-harmful processes.
By producing apparel and garments, massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions enter the atmosphere, water sources are depleted, and carcinogenic chemicals, dyes, salts, and heavy metals are dumped into waterways.
The fashion industry produces 20 percent of global wastewater and 10 percent of global carbon emissions which is more than all international flights and maritime shipping, the UNEP reports. Each step of making clothes carries a significant environmental burden.
1. Textile Dyeing & Water Contamination
Processes like bleaching, softening, or making the garment water-resistant or anti-wrinkle require various chemicals and treatments to be applied to fabric, CNN explains.
But textile dyeing is the biggest offender in the fashion industry and is the second-largest polluter of water globally according to the UNEP.
Dyeing clothes to get vivid colors and finishes that are common in the fast fashion industry require large amounts of water and chemicals, which end up being dumped in nearby rivers and lakes.
The World Bank has identified 72 toxic chemicals that end up in waterways from textile dyeing. Wastewater disposal is rarely regulated or monitored, meaning fashion brands and factory owners are left unaccountable. Water contamination destroys the local environments of garment-producing nations like Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is the world’s second-biggest garment exporter with apparel reaching thousands of stores across the United States and Europe. But the country’s waterways have been polluted for years by garment operations, textile mills, and dyeing plants.
An article from CNN revealed the impact of water pollution on residents who live near Bangladesh’s largest garment manufacturing districts. Residents say the waters now have a “pitch black color” and “there are no fish.”
“The kids get sick if they stay here,” one man told CNN, explaining that his two children and grandson are unable to live with him “because of the water.”
Chemical-laden water kills plants and animals in or near the waterways, destroying ecosystem biodiversity in these areas. The dyeing chemicals also have significant human health impacts and have been linked to forms of cancer, gastrointestinal problems, and skin irritation. The harmful chemicals get into the food system when polluted water is used to irrigate crops and contaminate vegetables and fruit.
Employees in garment factories are often left unprotected from the harmful dyes.
“People don’t have gloves or sandals, they’re barefoot, they don’t have masks, and they are working with dangerous chemicals or dyes in a congested area. They are like sweat factories,” Ridwanul Haque, chief executive of the Dhaka-based NGO Agroho, told CNN.
Governments and brands have sought to clean up waterways and regulate dye water disposal after pressure from consumers and advocacy groups like Agroho. In recent years, China has enacted environmental policies to crack down on textile dye pollution. But while some regions saw a great improvement in water quality, water pollution remains a significant problem across the country.
2. Fossil Fuel Fabrics & Microfibers
About 60 percent of all garments contain polyester, a synthetic fabric made with fossil fuels. Emissions of CO2 for polyester in clothing are nearly 3 times higher than those for cotton, Greenpeace reported.
When repeatedly washed, synthetic garments shed microfibers (microplastics) that eventually end up polluting waterways and never biodegrade. A 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all microplastics in the ocean came from synthetic fabrics like polyester. Microfibers are easily ingested by marine life, working their way into the human food system and human bodies, and can carry harmful bacteria.
3. Landfills & Waste
In particular, fast fashion is driving up waste by continuously releasing new trends of poorly-made clothes that easily rip and tear. Just within years of being made, consumers discard their clothes which end up in incinerators or landfills. One garbage truck of clothes is burned or sent to landfills every second, the Ellen Macarthur Foundation reported.
Almost 85 percent of textiles end up in landfills where it could take up to 200 years for materials to decompose. This is not only a huge waste of the resources used in these products but also releases more pollution as clothes are burned or sit in landfills releasing greenhouse emissions.
More Sustainable Practices
Movements toward biodegradable fashion are pushing for environmentally-friendly dyes and alternative fabrics that do not take hundreds of years to decompose.
In 2019, the UN launched the Alliance for Sustainable Fashion to coordinate international efforts to curb the environmental impacts of the fashion industry.
“There are fantastic ways to get new clothes without buying new,” Carry Somers, founder and global operations director of Fashion Revolution, told WBUR. “We can hire. We can rent. We can swap. Or we can invest in clothes which are made by artisans, which have taken time and skill to produce.”
Comprehensive changes in the fast fashion industry can help end sweatshops and exploitation work practices, heal the health and environments of communities where garments are produced, and also aid the global fight in mitigating climate change.
Source: The Economist/YouTube
Read more about the environmental impact of the fashion industry and some ways to reduce your impact:
- 10 Ways to Naturally Dye Fabric at Home Using Fruits, Vegetables, and Plants
- An Astounding 60% of Clothes in Your Closet are Made Using Plastic!
- A Guide to Buying Sustainable, Fair-Trade, and Cruelty-Free Clothing
- What Is the Most Animal and Eco-Friendly Material for Clothing?
- Zara Pledges to Make All Sustainable Clothing by 2025!
- 10 Tips to Upcycle Everything in Your Closet
- How to Repurpose, Recycle, and Reuse Old Mattresses
- Learn How to Repurpose, Recycle, and Reuse Old Leather
- 12 Things That Can Be Repurposed as Planters
- How to Repurpose, Recycle, and Reuse Old Chairs
- How to Recycle Clothes
- How to Repurpose, Recycle, or Resell Old Shoes
Sign this petition to demand that the U.S. pass a law banning all clothing designers, manufacturers, and stores from burning excess, unsold merchandise!
- How Fast Fashion Has Changed The Way We Think About Clothes
- How to Buy Fast Fashion More Ethically
- From Factory Farming to Fast Fashion: Important Environmental Issues to Learn About This Earth Day!
- Love Fashion But Also Want to Live Sustainably? Here’s How!
- Fast-Fashion Influencers and their Environmental Impact
Easy Ways to Help the Planet:
- Eat Less Meat: Download Food Monster, the largest plant-based recipe app on the App Store to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy. You can also buy a hard or soft copy of our favorite vegan cookbooks.
- Reduce Your Fast Fashion Footprint: Take initiative by standing up against fast fashion pollution and supporting sustainable and circular brands like Tiny Rescue that are raising awareness around important issues through recycled zero-waste clothing designed to be returned and remade over and over again.
- Support Independent Media: Being publicly-funded gives us a greater chance to continue providing you with high-quality content. Please consider supporting us by donating!
- Sign a Petition: Your voice matters! Help turn petitions into victories by signing the latest list of must-sign petitions to help people, animals, and the planet.
- Stay Informed: Keep up with the latest news and important stories involving animals, the environment, sustainable living, food, health, and human interest topics by subscribing to our newsletter!
- Do What You Can: Reduce waste, plant trees, eat local, travel responsibly, reuse stuff, say no to single-use plastics, recycle, vote smart, switch to cold water laundry, divest from fossil fuels, save water, shop wisely, donate if you can, grow your own food, volunteer, conserve energy, compost, and don’t forget about the microplastics and microbeads lurking in common household and personal care products!