Sadly, the environmental damage is only increasing as the industry grows. And grow it does. Clothing production has roughly doubled since 2000. And even though people buy 60% more garments today than in 2000, they only keep the clothes for half as long.
In 2000 most fashion brands offered two collections every year. Now, there are brands, like H&M, that offer between 12 and 16 collections per year. Zara puts out 24 collections per year.
This growing market for cheap items and new styles is taking its toll on our environment.
Here are the main reasons why the fashion industry is such dirty business (and what you can do about it).
Carbon EmissionsYou might think that most of the world’s carbon problems come from international flights and maritime shipping. Nope. The fashion industry is actually responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions—that’s more carbon than international and maritime shipping combined. According to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, if the fashion sector continues on this current path, by 2050 that share of the carbon budget could jump from 10% to 26%.
Fossil FuelsDid you know that most fabrics are actually made out of oil? Polyester, acrylic, nylon, spandex, and acetate are all made from nonrenewable fossil fuels, which require a bunch of energy to produce and emit all sorts of poisons into our environment when they're sent to the landfills.
ManufacturingManufacturing textiles is extremely water intensive. For example, producing one pair of denim jeans uses over 1,000 gallons of water. This amounts to over 450 billion gallons of water every year just to make the jeans sold in the US. Makes you think twice about pulling on those britches.
Non-Biodegradable FabricsNylon takes 30 to 40 years to biodegrade, while polyester requires more than 200 years. And while they’re slowly biodegrading, they release chemicals like formaldehyde, heavy metals, BPA, and PFCs into the environment. Yuck.
Plastic PollutionSynthetic clothing contains plastic. When you wash synthetics, like polyester, they shed small plastic microfibers. Over 190,000 tons of these microplastic fibers end up in our oceans every year and 35% of all microplastics in the ocean came from washing synthetic textiles. Once in the ocean, they act as pollution magnets that marine animals mistake for food, and can eventually end up in our food. Boo plastic.
Rainforest DestructionEvery year, 70 million trees are cut down to make wood-based fabrics such as rayon, viscose, and modal. This loss of forests is threatening the ecosystem and indigenous communities, such as Indonesia where large-scale deforestation of the rainforests has taken place over the past decade.
Soil DegradationThe massive, global degradation of soil is one of the most pressing environmental issues our planet is currently facing. It presents a major threat to global food security and also contributes to global warming. The fashion industry plays a major part in soil degradation in a number of ways: overgrazing of pastures by goats and sheep raised for their wool, destruction of soil due to the massive use of chemicals to grow cotton, and deforestation caused by wood-based fibers like rayon.
Throw-Away FashionThe equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second. That’s over 14 million tons of textiles every year. And here’s a sobering stat. Over 99% of the clothing thrown away in the US can be recycled or reused, but more than 85% ends up in landfills.
Toxic Chemicals2,000 different chemicals, including formaldehyde, chlorine, lead, and mercury are used in textile processing. Of these, over 1,600 are used in dyeing processes, but only 16 are actually EPA-approved. Um…
Toxic DyesTextile dyeing is the world's second-largest polluter of water and The World Bank estimates that almost 20% of global water pollution comes from the treatment and dyeing of textiles. In China alone, the textile industry pumps out more than 3 billion tons of wastewater every year. After water is used in the manufacturing process, this often-polluted water is then sent back to our rivers, lakes, and oceans. So there’s that.
Traditional CottonBelieve it or not, traditional cotton is not that awesome. Although it is only grown on 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land, it consumes 16% of all the insecticides and 6.8% of all herbicides used worldwide. Most cotton requires high levels of irrigation and water-intensive processing. It takes about 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton shirt. That's enough water for one person to drink at least eight cups of water per day for three-and-a-half years.
Water ConsumptionThe world is facing extreme freshwater scarcity and right this minute over a billion people don’t have access to safe water. The fashion industry is the second-largest consumer of water worldwide and uses over 1.5 trillion liters of water every year. Yikes.
Is it All Gloom and Doom?Believe it or not, no.
The first step in finding a solution is to understand the facts surrounding the fashion industry. Because once you understand the facts, you can do something about it.
At Alare, we have a really simple formula we follow when it comes to eco-friendly fashion:
1. Research How to Care for Your Clothes
There’s a garment care tag attached to your clothes for a reason. Take the time to read it and follow the instructions. It could add years to the life-span of your clothes.
Also, consider washing your clothes less frequently. Not only will this save water and energy, your garment will last much longer.
2. Repair What You Can
When your clothing gets damaged, don't just toss it in the trash. Fix it.
If your shirt is missing a button, learn how to sew it back on. If the zipper on your favorite jeans is broken, learn how to fix it. If you have a stain on your sweater, learn how to get it out.
3. Recycle What You Don’t Need
Sick of looking at that 20-year old shirt? Don’t just throw it in the garbage where it will remain for hundreds of years polluting our air and soil. Try selling it on Ebay or a local second-hand store.
At the very least, donate it to charity.
If your clothing is completely ruined, find out where you can recycle them. On Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles, you can find your nearest drop-off location.
4. Reduce What You Buy
You can reduce your overall consumption by questioning all significant purchases and resisting impulse buying. Before purchasing, give yourself at least a day or two to cool off.
A little tip we like to use is, will you use this item more than 30 times? If not, don't buy it.
5. Buy Responsibly
When you do finally need to buy new, then buy responsibly.
Invest in eco-friendly fabrics that are gentle on our planet like organic cotton, linen, hemp, bamboo, and cupro.
The Bottom Line
The fashion industry is dirty business. But, we can help clean it up.
We can purchase from responsible brands that are not destroying our planet. And we can invest in sustainable materials that are gentler on the earth.
It's not always easy to be eco-friendly, but it's worth it. Just ask our future generation.