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What is fast fashion doing to the environment?

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

We are becoming increasingly more aware of the damage that we are doing to the environment. We know that the sea levels are rising and we know that we need to work on our carbon footprint. But, do we know the damage that our clothes are causing the environment?

  • What is fast fashion?
  • What happens to our clothes in landfill sites?
  • How do our clothes pollute water?
  • What effect are our clothes having on the carbon footprint?
  • What are our clothes doing to natural habitats?
  • How can we help our planet?

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is the process of designing, making, and selling clothing as quickly and cheaply as possible. When there was once a new fashion range to reflect the four seasons of the year, there are now 52 ranges to reflect every week of the year. Fast fashion is cheap to buy, but comes at the price of being made from cheap materials that only last a few wears, and, more importantly, the deterioration of our environment. 

What happens to our clothes in landfill sites? 

A western family, on average, throws away 30 kg of clothing every year. 15% of that clothing is recycled or donated and the other 85% is taken to a landfill. 72% of fast fashion clothing is made from synthetic fibres, which are non-biodegradable. It can take up to 200 years for these fibres to decompose. As our clothing decomposes methane, a greenhouse gas, is emitted into the atmosphere. The rapid pace that we are throwing away clothing, coupled with the slow rate that clothes decompose, has resulted in landfills being inundated with clothing, emitting a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon. 

How do our clothes pollute the water?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has calculated that the fashion industry uses 1.5 trillion litres of water every year. A 2017 report stated that the average water footprint for a kilo of cotton, equivalent to one pair of jeans and a t-shirt, was 10,000-20,000 litres. This water becomes wastewater, which contains toxic substances, such as lead, mercury and arsenic. It is extremely dangerous to aquatic life and has the potential to travel to the ocean, therefore polluting the water across the globe. 

Even washing our clothes is polluting the water. One washload of polyester can release 700,000 micro-plastic fibres into the environment, and an estimated 500,000 of those fibres end up in the ocean. Although small, micro-plastic fibres are a major contributor to the micro-plastic pollution in our seas and pose a threat to the livelihoods of aquatic animals. 

What effect do our clothes have on the carbon footprint?

The UN has stated that the fashion industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industries combined. In addition, The Pulse report has predicted that fashion emissions will grow by 63% by 2030. 

Fast fashion monopolises on designing, producing and selling clothing at a rapid pace. As a result of this, the industry produces 10% of the worlds carbon dioxide emissions a year amongst other greenhouse gases. Synthetic fibres, made from fossil fuels, are constantly being used in fast fashion because they are cheaper than natural fibres. This makes the production of fast fashion clothing a lot more energy-intensive. In addition, a lot of our clothing is made in countries such as China, Bangladesh and India. These countries are mostly powered by coal, the dirtiest energy in terms of carbon emissions. Buying our clothing at the rate that we currently are is heightening the use of fossil fuels and increasing global warming through intense greenhouse gas emission.

What are our clothes doing to natural habitats? 

The fast fashion industry is a massive contributor to deforestation. In fact, 70 million trees are cut down a year to make clothes. Every year, thousands of hectares of endangered forestry is cut down and replaced by plantations of trees that are grown to make wood-based fabrics such as rayon. This loss of forest is threatening ecosystems, as well as the lives of indigenous people.

As well as deforestation, the fashion industry plays a major role in the degradation of soil. Cashmere goats and sheep are specifically mass-produced for their wool, leading to over pasteurisation. In addition, cotton is sprayed with chemicals to help it to grow, which leads to soil pollution and loss of land.

Image by crustmania

How can we help our planet?

Despite the damage that has already been done to our planet, we can prevent further damage from happening. Begin by using conscious fashion brands. These are brands that use environmentally friendly processes to design, produce and manufacturer their clothing. These brands tend to be more expensive to buy from, however, use higher quality materials to create long lasting clothing. Other than this, try to buy second-hand and recycle any of your unwanted clothing.

To prevent endorsing in fast fashion, make sure that you are looking after your clothing. Book your dry cleaning slot by visiting the Laundryheap website or by downloading our free app.

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