August 10, 2021
4 Ways the Fashion Industry Harms the Environment
Fast fashion and the standard fashion business model have a considerable negative impact on the environment and on our health.
From pesticides to fertilizers, treatment chemicals, non-biodegradable synthetic materials, and the amount the energy consumed, the negative impacts are incredibly overwhelming. As someone who has seen the ins and outs of a typical fashion supply chain, I can tell you that the work that goes into making our clothing is very similar to how we get our food; ingredients matter. Read on to learn further about the downsides of the second largest polluting industry on earth, and together, hopefully, we can find sustainable solutions as conscious consumers.
The textile industry is one of the largest consumers of water in the world, using 3.2% of all water available to humans each year. Of all the water on earth, 97% is saltwater, 2% is locked up in ice, and 1% is left for our consumption, alongside making up rivers and lakes. Although 3.2% doesn’t sound large, take into account that it is 3.2% of the 1% of the water we have access to. It is estimated that in a single year, a major fashion brand uses the equivalent of 43,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Water in fashion is used in 2 ways, to grow the crops used for the raw materials (cotton, linen, viscose), and in the manufacturing process. One of the most common garments made worldwide is jeans, each year about 2 billion pairs are produced. For example, to make a famous 501 jean, 3,500 liters of water are needed, as well as 400 megajoules of energy and 32 kg of carbon dioxide are released, which is equivalent to running a garden hose for 106 minutes, driving 125 km, and powering a computer for 556 hours. We very very rarely are given information regarding the raw materials used to make the clothing we buy, but the water usage does not stop at the production, it goes back until growing the cotton, which is one of the most thirsty crops used in fashion.
Uzbekistan is the world’s 2nd largest exporter of cotton, and has faced human rights violations and environmental disasters from the harvesting of this crop. A market dominated by powerful politicians and businessmen, the cotton industry in Uzbekistan has completely depleted the Aral sea in efforts to irrigate the continuous fields. The labor often includes children pulled out of school to help adults meet unrealistic quotas, and still, the farmers are the ones who continue to suffer from financial year to year.
In countries like India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, or Vietnam, you can actually predict the “it color” of the season by observing the color of the rivers near manufacturing sites. More than 1.5 million tons of hazardous chemicals, with irreversible environmental impact, are used in the production of clothing, such as azo dyes, NPEs and toxic perfluorinated substances, which are knowns carcinogens. In total, up to 20% of the world’s water pollution is caused by the garment industry and synthetic dying practices.
One full garbage truck of clothing is burned or sent to a landfill every second due to the global fashion industry. The rate at which we consume and throw away our clothes contributes to large amounts of waste, not only in our own landfills but more so in developing countries. Only a small percentage of donated clothes find a new home in the country they were donated in. For the remaining clothing, there are three things that can happen; they are incinerated, sent to landfill, or sent abroad to countries like Ghana and Ivory Coast, where they are resold to merchants in large bundles. These bundles sell very cheaply and in turn, disrupt the local garment markets.
In the U.S. alone, clothing landfills take up more than 125 million cubic yards each year. What is most disturbing is that most of this clothing is made from non-biodegradable materials, meaning that it will take 200+ years to decompose… Only 1% of clothing can be recycled into new clothing, due to the use of mixed fibers and the lack of recycling technology.
Synthetic Fibers and their Carbon Footprint
The use of synthetic fibers, especially polyester, has a considerable environmental impact. Polyester releases up to three times more carbon dioxide than other fibers and takes hundreds of years to degrade, and still, synthetic clothing accounts for 60% of the global apparel industry’s fiber consumption. Furthermore, due to the growth in demand for fast fashion, the amount of polyester used to make clothing has increased by 157% from 2000 to today. A figure like this should inspire us to pick sustainable fashion brands that are producing clothes from natural fibers instead. To learn more about biodegradable fiber options, read our archive!
Chez SANNA, we believe it is important to know the origin of our clothes, not just where they were made, but from what ingredients. When brands are not transparent about how their garments are made, we think it is time to be skeptical. This is our raison d’etre, and a reason why SANNA exists, as a place to support ethical and sustainable practices by transforming consumerism into a pathway towards activism. Creating a place where the standard is natural and organic, where our globally sourced products are celebrated for their native origins, and where we allow consumers a place to be held accountable for their purchases.