The fashion industry is notorious for its production of waste: the swiftly changing seasons of style lead to masses of ‘old’ clothes, which are often not made to last, ending up in landfill. Fashion brands make more money when they produce cheap clothes quickly – fast fashion! – but this means their environmental impact goes unaddressed.
Here are the top five reasons you should try to avoid fast fashion to protect the planet!
The most obvious impact of fast fashion is the amount of clothing that ends up in landfill.
When clothes are made cheaply, they don’t last very long in people’s wardrobes, but once they’re thrown away, they don’t biodegrade – this means they stick around in landfill for up to two hundred years. In 2018 alone, seventeen million tonnes of textile waste was thrown away in landfill – and this number just keeps rising.
The easiest way to combat the landfill problem is to invest in durable pieces and repair or upcycle them when you’re done wearing them!
Firstly, the materials our clothes are made from use a lot of water – especially cotton, which makes up half of all textiles, according to the WWF. Cotton is one of the most water-intensive crops, meaning that the equivalent of one cotton shirt takes about 2700 litres of water to grow.
And that’s not to mention the water used in the manufacturing process – approximately 20% of the world’s wastewater comes from dying and treating fabrics.
Clothes are treated with a lot of different chemicals, whether those are dyes to give them their colour or treatments to bleach them, soften them, or make them water-resistant.
These chemicals don’t generally affect the wearer, but the factories often dump wastewater directly into local waterways, alongside all the toxic chemicals and dyes. Fast fashion manufacturers are much more likely to use and dump toxic chemicals to reduce costs and, as most wastewater disposal is unregulated, these practices lead to immense pollution.
A lot of our fabrics are fully or partially synthetic, meaning that they contain plastic – for example, nylon fibres are usually mixed with natural fibres like cotton to create nylon material.
When you wash synthetic materials, they shed tiny bits of plastic that end up in rivers and oceans, polluting ecosystems on a microscopic scale. These microplastics are harmful to the environment and extremely difficult to remove.
Not all synthetic clothing is fast fashion, though: a lot of brands have been cropping up lately using recycled plastics in their synthetics, keeping things circular!
As with all consumer products, the manufacturing and shipping of clothes have a substantial carbon footprint – but this is exacerbated in fast fashion because of the sheer volume of clothing produced and bought. The fashion industry as a whole causes 10% of worldwide carbon emissions each year, which equals ‘more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined’.
Whereas a sustainable brand would produce fewer, more durable pieces, and may even offset their carbon emissions with environmental initiatives, fast fashion brands manufacture many more pieces to keep up with demand and with fashion trends. The processing and global distribution emits carbon that these brands are extremely unlikely to be offsetting – it costs money to do so, meaning that if a garment is cheap, there’s probably not a lot of sustainability behind it.
There’s actually no simple solution to fast fashion – as long as there’s demand for cheap clothing, and no regulations around pollution, water usage, and carbon offsetting, brands will still produce cheaply made, easily discarded clothing. The biggest barrier to sustainable clothing is its cost, so if you can’t afford 100% circular or sustainable clothing (and many of us can’t!), the best thing to do is to re-think what you do with clothes once you’re done wearing them.
Donating old garments, repairing broken ones, and recycling or upcycling clothes are all great strategies to minimise your impact on the environment, and this way, you can live within your means guilt-free!
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