It’s interesting to see how our everyday choices have tremendous impacts on the environment, whether we realize it or not. Right from our food habits, to the way we consume, the products we use, the way we build our houses and the clothes we wear. Collectively, every single habit is adding to the already existing global problems.
However, there are solutions and alternatives to mitigate these problems. The first step lies in building awareness and willingness to change. As I say, do not panic! Instead, choose consciously and wisely. To understand the impact of fashion on the environment.
Fast fashion is nothing but the mass-production of cheap, disposable clothing. Countless new collections per year make us feel constantly out of date and encourage us to keep buying more.
So, what are the problems with the fast fashion industry?
Water consumption and pollution
The fashion industry is a major water consumer. Huge quantity of fresh water is used for the dyeing and finishing process for all of our clothes. Chemicals are a key component in the manufacturing process of clothes. They are used during the ﬁbre production, dyeing, bleaching and wet processing of each of our garments.
Over 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used in the various processes that turn raw material into fabrics. As a reference, it can take up to 200 tons of freshwater per ton of dyed fabric. This requires sourcing freshwater and releasing water that is tainted, rendered toxic, undrinkable or otherwise polluted back into the ecosystem, directly into our rivers and waterways.
Majority of textile manufacturing occurs along the waterways of the developing world. The harmful eﬀects of pollution on communities that rely on waterways for their food, watering livestock and sustenance, is immeasurable.
Microfibers in Ocean
With every wash of synthetic fabric (nylon, rayon, etc.), micro fabrics are released into water, making their way into the oceans. Small aquatic organisms ingest these microfibers. These organisms are eaten by small fishes, which are then eaten by larger fish and eventually become a part of our food chain. So, directly or indirectly we are consuming these plastics.
With every wash of synthetic fabric (nylon, rayon etc.), micro fabrics are released into water, making their way into the oceans. Small aquatic organisms ingest these microfibers. These organisms are eaten by small fishes, which are then eaten by larger fish and eventually become a part of our food chain. So, directly or indirectly we are consuming these plastics.
Greenhouse gases emissions
The global fashion industry is generating a lot of greenhouse gases due to the energy used during its production, manufacturing, and transportation of the million garments purchased each year. Synthetic fibers (polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc.), used in the majority of our clothes, are made from fossil fuel, making production much more energy-intensive than with natural fibers.
Most of our clothes are produced in China, Bangladesh, or India, countries essentially powered by coal. Energy generated by coal releases a lot of toxic gases.
Destruction of rainforests
Forests across the world are being destroyed to make fabrics we wear every day. It’s shocking but true! Popular fabrics—like rayon, viscose, and modal are all made from trees. Every year, more than 120 million trees are cut down to make our clothing. Another aspect to it is the clearing of rainforest to convert it into cattle pasture for the leather industry to make handbags, shoes, and accessories. This loss of rainforests is in turn threatening all the indigenous communities.
Inhumane Working Conditions
Most of our clothes are made in countries in which workers’ rights are limited or non-existent. Because the fashion industry requires low-skilled labor, child labor is particularly common in this industry. The workers are forced to work long hours with a minimum salary to meet the never-ending demand for clothes. Most often they work in poor conditions and face verbal and physical abuse.
So, what can we do to reduce our fashion environmental impact?
1.Evaluate your needs- buy less:
The root of the problem lies with excessive consumerism. We tend to buy more and more thinking it would make us happy. We get carried away by recent trends, feel outdated, and in constant need to refill our wardrobes by looking at all the influencers on social media. These influencers drive the fast fashion economy and affect how normal people think about their own clothing choices.
2. Buy better quality from sustainable brands:
Because clothes have become so cheap, we no longer care as much about quality. We just buy new garments when the ones we have lost their shape or appeal. It’s also easy and cheap to just walk to the nearest shopping mall and refill our wardrobes. But the more we demand for sustainable brands and choose to consume consciously, the more it will be available.
3. Do not throw out your clothes:
When you throw away your clothes in normal bins, most of the non-
biodegradable fibers end up in landfills. Instead of that you can be a little creative and repair it or donate it to your friends, family, or someone in need.
4. Buy second-hand, swap, or rent clothing:
Thrift shopping, swapping clothes, and buying second hand is gaining popularity every day. More and more people are being aware of the harmful effects the fast fashion industry has choosing to make a change to their lifestyles.
(The views expressed in the article are the author’s own. Let Me Breathe neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)