The fashion industry has a long chain of production. Everything from raw material, textile manufacture, clothing construction, shipping retail, and the eventual disposal of the product can be detrimental to the planet’s health. According to EcoWatch, “A general assessment must take into account not only obvious pollutants—the pesticides used in cotton farming, the toxic dyes used in manufacturing and the great amount of waste discarded clothing creates—but also the extravagant amount of natural resources used in extraction, farming, harvesting, processing, manufacturing and shipping.” Since there are so many different aspects of the fashion industry that are damaging the environment, it makes it difficult to see the issues among it. So let’s break it down a bit—here are some of the ways that our fashion choices impact our environment:
From the source
Let’s start with the fabrics used to make the clothing that we love. Cotton, for example, is a very water thirsty plant. It takes approximately 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture one t-shirt and a pair of jeans. While only 2.4 percent of the world's cropland is planted with cotton, it consumes 10 percent of all agricultural chemicals and 25 percent of insecticides. Some genetically modified varieties, which are resistant to some insects and tolerant of some herbicides, now make up more than 20 percent of the world's cotton crop.” These thirsty little plants are consuming so much water and they are also sprayed with pesticides and other toxic chemicals that do harm.
So what about organic cotton? Well, it is a much more sustainable alternative but so far it makes up about 1% of all of the cotton grown around the world today because it is a lot more expensive to create.
What about synthetic materials? They are not very good for the environment either. “Polyester and nylon are made from non-biodegradable petrochemicals, so they are automatically unsustainable. While the manufacturing of both uses great amounts of energy, nylon also emits a large amount of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, during manufacturing. On top of that, it's estimated that it takes about 70 million barrels of oil just to produce the virgin polyester used in fabrics each year. Another huge issue is the amount of fibers that are being found in our natural water systems. From our washing machines around 1,900 individual fibers can be washed off a single garment and find their way into the oceans and on shores everywhere. These fibers are another pathway for the chemicals in the fabric to get into the environment.” Even though they are not grown with harmful pesticides and chemicals, man-made materials are doing just as much damage to the environment.
Dye me up
The dyes that we use in our clothing have a negative impact on the Earth. They have chemicals in them that pollute our environment. We also use a lot of freshwater in order to dye our clothes. “Altogether, more than a half trillion gallons of fresh water are used in the dyeing of textiles each year. The dye wastewater is discharged, often untreated, into nearby rivers, where it reaches the sea, eventually spreading around the globe. China, according to Yale Environment 360, discharges roughly 40 percent of these chemicals.” When we are using unnatural dyes we are polluting our water, and this does not help keep our planet clean.
Some of our clothes come from thousands of miles away, and that has some negative impacts on Mother Earth. Most of them come over here on cargo ships. “While we don't know what percentage of cargo garments comprise on the world's container ships, we do know that a single ship can produce as much cancer and asthma-causing pollutants as 50 million cars in just one year. The low-grade bunker fuel burned by ships is 1,000 times dirtier than highway diesel used in the trucking industry. These ships do not consume fuel by the gallon, but by tons per hour. Pollution by the shipping industry, which has boomed over the past 20 years, is beginning to affect the health of those living in coastal and inland regions around the world, yet the emissions of such ships goes mostly unregulated.” When we support non-local fashion we are supporting a massive fuel-consuming industry that doesn’t have our planet’s health in mind.
Throw em’ out
At the end of our clothes life cycle they typically end up in a landfill. We create so many clothing products for consumers that there is no need to fix and keep what we have. This disposable lifestyle that we have created has our best interest in mind, but not our home’s. To put things into perspective, in one year, 300 million people (a little less than what we have here in the USA) create enough trash to cover 1,000 acres of land. We throw away 10.5 million tons of clothing away every single year. Only l5% of clothes end up being recycled or donated, but if we could adopt more sustainable fashion practices we would be able to significantly reduce the amount of clothes that end up in a landfill.
What can we do?
Overall, we need to adopt better practices when it comes to clothing. As a culture we should not worry about brands in order fit trends that will be around for 3 weeks and end up in the trash. We are spending money on quantity rather than quality. It might be cost worthy to purchase a $5 shirt, but there is no price great enough to out way the environmental damage. Instead, you should purchase something that is better quality, fashionable, and will last you a lifetime. Fashion is something that is so important to our everyday lives, and we should take a second to think about how it impacts the world around us. By changing our buying habits, we are supporting local designers, farmers, and the place that we call home.
**Be sure to get tickets to the Seed X Eat Drink Vegan FASHION + ART SHOW at the Roxy Theater on Wednesday, 5/23/18! Tickets include food from Plant Food for People, cocktails by Jason Eisner with GT's Kombucha. LIMITED AVAILABILITY.