When it comes to impact on the environment, the fashion industry might not be a sector you immediately think of. However, fashion is the world’s 2nd most polluting industry after oil and there are 3 main ways this industry impacts the environment.
- How Clothes are produced
The textile industry uses huge amounts of water & this water contaminates, pollutes & poisons the rivers & streams that many people rely upon for drinking water. The cotton plants themselves are heavily treated with fertilizers and the runoff waters from the fields pollute rivers as well as evaporation waters. Next the textile factories often dump wastewaters from dying processes directly into rivers, which then run into the sea. 90% of the wastewater in developing countries, which is where most of our high street clothes are made, is discharged into rivers without treatment.
- How we dispose of them
Textiles, should never be put in the landfill bin. Clothes release toxic gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane when they decompose in landfills, which in turn causes global warming.
- How we wash them.
When we wash garments, especially synthetic ones, thousands of microfibers are released into the water system. These microfibers are then carried to rivers & oceans and ingested by tiny aquatic organisms. They then work their way up the food chain, introducing plastic into the food we eat. A recent study estimated we each eat around 5g or one credit card worth of plastic every single week. (study WWFN 2019)
So what can we do? Well firstly, we can consider our purchases very carefully and commit to buy fewer brand new garments, or better still, buy second hand. A huge amount of valuable resources goes into making every single clothing item, so buying things to wear just once is no longer sustainable. For example, it takes up to 2,108 gallons of water to make just 1 pair of jeans – that’s more water than you would drink in 11.5 years. A simple t-shirt uses 659 gallons, that’s enough drinking water for over 3.5 years. Buy items that will last. Repair, re use and recycle items. Swap, lend and borrow from your friends rather than buying new for a special occasion. Avoid ‘fast fashion’, which are cheaply made garments that won’t survive more than a few washes.
When we do have clothes we no longer need, never put them in your landfill bin. Instead, take them to a local charity shop so they can be sold on. If they are beyond use, many charity shops will still take them as they can sell them on by weight as textile waste to be recycled. Textile waste can be for example be repurposed as insulation.
Try to reduce the amount of times we wash our clothes. Yes clothes need to be washed when they are dirty, but if my household is anything to go by, clothes end up in the laundry basket on a frequent basis when all they actually need is airing on the washing line. A Guppy Bag can help capture the microfibers in your washing machine, preventing them entering the water system. Use as short a wash time as possible, the longer your wash cycle, the more clothing fibers break. Use your washing line to dry clothes whenever possible rather than the tumble dryer.
Most of us could admit to owning too many clothes. Estimates of how much of our wardrobes we actually wear, vary between 50% & 30%. Could you examine your own wardrobe today & commit to buying fewer clothes, shopping second hand or even borrowing from a friend for that one off special occasion? For more ideas, you may also like My 12 months buying no new clothes