What is the environmental impact of fast fashion?

What is the environmental impact of fast fashion?

One of the ways we as humans, citizens and concerned individuals for both the vulnerable and the environment can influence change, is by learning the truths about the global garment industry and committing to be part of the solution. This blog is intended to share some of those truths as it relates to the environmental impact and to offer encouragement about what steps you can take as a difference maker!   

In addition to the tragic impact of the fast fashion industry on humans, there is also  a horrifying environmental impact. Most of the time, those impacts go hand in hand and so our ability to influence change can be made with one decision rather than multiple.  The technological advances of the 21st century catalyzed the concept of fast fashion into a dream come true for design labels. Fast fashion quickly became the industry norm and has continued to grow. Despite the inherent benefits of this growth, many companies have not stopped to examine the impact of their production practices. Wasteful production, low wages, and unsafe conditions are the grease that keeps the fast fashion machine churning. There is no denying it's devastating consequences on people and for the environment.

 Large brands encourage factories to value efficiency over all else, creating huge amounts of material waste every day by cutting material without concern and disposing of the scraps. 1 million tons of textile waste is dumped into landfills around the world each year. Further, brands that offer 12-24 "seasons" per year tend to dispose of the thousands of pounds of products that don't sell each "season", rather than recycling them, further adding to the landfill problem. 

Manufacturing polyester, a synthetic material accounting for about 50% of all textiles, is an energy intensive process requiring nonrenewable petrochemicals. These chemicals are responsible for polluting the environment and contributing to illnesses. A polyester shirt has more than double the carbon footprint of a cotton shirt. Polyester production for textiles released about 706 billion kg (1.5 trillion pounds) of greenhouse gases in 2015, the equivalent of 185 coal-fired power plants' annual emissions. 

Factories have polluted an estimated 70% of Chinas rivers, lakes and reservoirs to the point where they are unsafe for human use. This pollution is not exclusive to China, as garment manufacturing occurs globally in countries without environmental protection in place.

It is estimated that 20% of global water pollution comes from textiles treatment and dying. In most of the countries in which garments are produced, untreated toxic wastewaters from textiles factories are dumped directly into the rivers.  Wastewater contains toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, among others. These are extremely harmful for the aquatic life and the health of the millions of people living by those rivers. The contamination also reaches the sea and eventually spreads around the globe. 

In addition to pollution, the excessive use of natural resources by the global garment industry is alarming.  1.5 Trillion liters of water are used by the fashion industry each year.  More than a half trillion of those gallons are used in the dyeing of textiles. 

It can take more than 5,000 gallons of water and produce approx 6 kilograms of carbon ( almost 30 times the final weight of the t-shirt itself) just to manufacture a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. The average person drinks 2700 liters of water in about 2.5 years.

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

  • Commit to being part of the solution wherever you can.
  • Choose clothes that are entirely made in countries with stricter environmental regulations for factories.
  • Choose organic and natural fibers that do not require chemicals to be produced.
  • Choose sustainable brands.
  • Thrift.
  • Look for garments with certification label controlling chemical content such as GOTS or BLUESIGN.

 

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