5 Ways Fast Fashion is Destroying the Environment

Updated: Nov 6

Fast fashion took off in the 1990s as an efficient way to meet consumers' desires to have the latest trends at a low cost. Most of us are guilty of supporting the fast fashion industry, whether we know it or not. We love the convenience of it. However, 400% more clothes are produced now compared to 20 years ago, so it's no surprise that the environment has taken a huge hit. The next time you resort to supporting fast fashion, consider the following five impacts it has on our environment.

 

1. Excessive Water Usage

The fashion industry is the second largest consumer industry of water usage. It uses 5 trillion liters of water per year. For a bit of context, it takes 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton shirt and 2,000 gallons to make one pair of jeans. Moreover, 2.6% of global freshwater is used to produce cotton, which is what many brands use to make clothing. Why does this matter? Freshwater is a vital resource for survival. Despite the need, 771 million people around the world lack access to clean drinking water. This is equivalent to 1 in every 10 people not having clean water. The overuse of water in the fashion industry is depleting a necessary resource for all living things.



2. Water Pollution

In most countries where clothing is produced, textile factories dump toxic wastewater straight into rivers. Lead, mercury, and arsenic are a few examples of the toxic chemicals used in garment production. These are all extremely harmful to both humans and aquatic life. After wastewater is dumped in rivers, contaminated water spreads into the oceans. This puts everyone around the world at risk, even those who aren't directly located near a body of water.



3. Greenhouse Gas Emissions

5-10% of greenhouse gas emissions are generated from the production, manufacturing, and transportation of garments. Emissions are attributed to the production of synthetic fibers (polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc.) as well as the operation of coal powered garment factories in China, India, and Bangladesh. As many know, an abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is a leading contributor to climate change.



4. Microplastics Pollution

Materials commonly used in clothing production such as polyester, spandex, and nylon are non-biodegradable. When these materials are washed, tiny plastic fibers, known as microplastics, are released into the water. They eventually flow into our rivers and oceans. Every year, clothing releases half a million tons of microfibers into the ocean. This is equivalent to the microplastics from over 50 billion plastic water bottles! Marine life dies as a result of unknowingly eating microplastics.




5. Textile Waste

Only 15% of clothing gets recycled or donated, and the rest goes directly to landfill. Synthetic fibers (used in 69% of our clothing) take up to 200 years to decompose. The equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is wasted every second, and 5.8% of the waste in US landfills are textiles! Not only does it look unappealing, textile waste releases toxic chemicals and dyes into our soil and groundwater.



 

So what can we do?

It'll take a village to slow the negative impacts fast fashion has on our environment, but there are small actions we can all take now to do our part. Here are a few examples:

  • Choose clothing produced in countries with environmental regulations for factories such as the USA, Canada, or the EU

  • Opt for pieces made of natural fibers, semi-synthetic fibers, or linen

  • Buy fewer items of better quality

  • Wash clothes at a lower temperature

  • Recycle old clothes

  • Educate others!



 

Resources:

https://earth.org/fast-fashions-detrimental-effect-on-the-environment/

https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/whats-wrong-with-the-fashion-industry

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/f/fast-fashion.asp

https://www.cp3montreal.com/articles/microplastic-pollution-and-the-fast-fashion-industry https://water.org/our-impact/water-crisis/



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