We know that the fashion industry has a disastrous impact on the planet, and it is only getting worse as the industry is increasing. Right now, the fashion industry is the second biggest polluter in the world, right after the oil industry.
In this post, we will take a look at the issues the fashion industry causes globally.
Due to the lack of regulation, water pollution is a huge issue in countries where garments are produced because untreated wastewater from textile factories is dumped into the rivers. It is calculated that textile production is responsible for roughly 20 percent of the global water pollution due to the dyeing and finishing of the products.
This wastewater of the textile industry contains a lot of chemicals that are incredibly harmful to aquatic life. These chemicals include mercury, lead, arsenic, and many others. Moreover, these chemicals are not only harmful to aquatic life, but also to the people living near the river banks. Eventually, the contamination ends up in the sea after which it can spread around the whole world.
Next to the water pollution of the textile industry, cotton is also a major water polluter. To grow the crop huge amounts of fertilizers and chemicals are used which contaminates the runoff water and evaporation water.
Microfibres are another consequence of the fashion industry. synthetic materials used in clothing are made from plastic. When these clothes are washed minuscule fibers, even smaller than human hair, are released into the air or waterways. These microfibres attract organic pollutants and toxic materials from detergent. Once in the ocean plankton and algae mistake it for food and absorb it. In turn, fish eat the plankton. This way the microfibres build up in the food chain, and eventually, it ends up on our plate. Currently, a quarter of our food contains microfibres.
Washing synthetic clothing is estimated to release 0.5 million tonnes of microfibres in the ocean each year.
Chemicals are an important aspect of our clothing. Chemicals are used during multiple processes of clothing manufacturing.
As mentioned, chemicals are used during cotton cultivation in the form of fertilizers and pesticides. In these stages, the chemicals are harmful to the soil and water due to the contaminations, and they can be harmful to the farmers who can form diseases or even die prematurely if the correct gear is not used.
During fiber, production chemicals are used to make the fibers softer, and easier to work with. Moreover, the bleaching and dying process also use chemicals. As mentioned, all these chemicals can end up in the environment causing harm and a loss of biodiversity.
For more information on toxic chemicals, it might be interesting to read the article of Compare Ethics: Toxic Fashion: what chemicals are used in clothing?
Soil is an essential element of our environment. Healthy soil is very important for multiple reasons, but primarily for our food production. Another aspect for which healthy soil is important is for the absorption of CO2. Global soil degradation is a major threat and adds to global warming.
Many activities in the fashion industry add to the threat of soil degradation. The extensive use of chemicals that are necessary for cotton cultivation; the overgrazing of animals such as sheep and llamas for their wool; and deforestation.
Deforestation is another major issue in the fashion industry because there are many wood fibers that are used. In order to retrieve these wood fibers, whole forests are cut down to keep up with the demand. Not only causes soil degradation, but it will also lead to threats for humans living nearby and it reduces biodiversity which causes harm to animals.
Not so fun fact: Around 70 million trees are cut down every year in order to create clothes.
Greenhouse Gas emissions
It is estimated that the fashion industry is responsible for around 10 percent of the global GHG emissions. This is more than the international flights and maritime together.
The fashion industry is mainly producing a lot of GHG emissions because of the production, manufacturing, and transportation for which a lot of energy is necessary.
Nevertheless, there are also some synthetic materials that are made from fossil fuels which adds to the extensive CO2 emissions.
Moreover, as mentioned before most fashion is produced in countries where there are few regulations. Therefore, there are no rules or laws in place that tell the factories to reduce the output. Also, the factories are most likely fueled with coal because this is the primary energy source for those countries. In terms of carbon emission, this is the worst type of fossil fuel.
Not so fun fact: According to the European Environment Agency the clothing purchases in 2017 accounted for roughly 654KG of CO2 emissions per person.
Nowadays the trend cycles move rather quickly, with some even going for only a week. Due to the reduced quality and the increased speed of the trend cycles people are quick to throw away their clothes.
Sinds 2000 the number of clothes people buy has increased by 40 percent. Europeans use nearly 26 kilos of clothing, after which 11 kilograms are thrown away every year. Some of it is recycled or transported to other countries, but most of it, 86 percent, ends up in landfills.
Globally only 1 percent of all clothing is recycled due to inadequate recycling technologies.