Part I- The environmental cost
The story that I am about to tell is not new and it is not a fairytale: very much the opposite. You may not have heard this story before. Or maybe you have, but you did not read till the end because of where it was heading. You (very understandably) decided not to read till the end. Because that would have left you with a very bad taste in your mouth. It would have left you feeling unsettled. I know that feeling, because that is exactly what happened to me.
The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry on this planet. There you have it; the punch line. Read on because this is a story that needs to be told….and retold.
Let’s sum it up in a couple of bullit points.
The fashion industry:
- Is responsible for 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions (the adds up to the combined emission of all international plan travels and the maritime shipping industry);
- Is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply;
- Uses large amount dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams;
- Is accountable for microplastic pollution that leads to nearly a third of all ocean plastics because washing clothes made of polyester or other man-made fabrics sends thousands of bits of plastic into the ocean;
Fast fashion makes shopping for clothes more affordable, but it comes at an enormous environmental cost. Since 2000 the production of clothing has almost doubled. In Europe, in the year 2000 fashion companies went from offering two collections per year to five in 2011. Some brands like Zara puts out 24 collections per year, causing people to buy even more clothes they do not really need.
What we do with these clothes is also a problem: we have bought 60% more clothes than 20 years ago but we only wear and keep these clothes for half as long. 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year. Every second one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in landfill.
Washing clothes, meanwhile, releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year — the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.
Many of those fibers are polyester, a plastic found in an estimated 60% of garments. Producing polyester releases two to three times more carbon emissions than cotton, and polyester does not break down in the ocean.
A 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all microplastics — very small pieces of plastic that never biodegrade — in the ocean came from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester.
The fashion industry is also the second-largest consumer of water worldwide.
It takes almost 2700 liters of water to produce one cotton shirt. That’s enough water for one person to drink at least eight cups per day for three-and-a-half years. It takes 7500 liters of water to produce a pair of jeans. That’s more than enough for one person to drink eight cups per day for 10 years. The reason behind this huge water consumption is the use of cotton for the production of these products; cotton is a plant that needs a lot of water. The Aral see (Uzbekistan) was once one of the world largest lakes; it is now completely dried up due to the cotton industry.
Fashion also causes water-pollution problems. The dyeing of textile is the world’s second-largest polluter of water, because of the leftover water often being dumped into ditches, streams, or rivers. There are rivers in China that will show you what colours will be in fashion next season by looking at the colour of the water.
What can we do
We can all have a long hard look at our wardrobes that are too full most of the time. We can stop buying clothes we do not really need. We can buy fewer, better items instead of responding to every new collection that is launched. We can stop buying from the polluting brands (almost all the known ones) and turn to the one that have taken responsibility in helping consumers to move away from fast fashion and towards slow fashion and sustainability.
It is them that are investing more but producing less (1 or 2 collections, sometimes only on demand). It is them that are taking the uphill road of using sustainable fabric that use less water and non-toxic dyes. It is them that are truly sustainable and not just pretending to be (we see you greenwashers out there!).
And truth be told, the most sustainable act you can take is to use what you have and not buy anything new. Second to that there are a few other things that will make a difference. Re-use, swap, buy vintage/second-hand, repair, rent or recycle.
Colour My Day presents truly sustainable brands to you so you do not have to look very far. Find them and their stories here.
*Source: Word Economic Forum