It is hard to determine which industry pollutes the most because of the large number of factors implicated but one thing is certain, the fashion industry is one of the top polluters.
Some statistics say it is the second largest polluter in the world, just oil industry is more disastrous and the worst news is that together with the industry growth the environmental damage is increasing also.
There are solutions and alternatives to reduce and possibly correct these problems. The first step lies in informing people and instilling willingness to change.
Water consumption and water pollution
The fashion industry is a major water consumer. For example, the average water consumption for a kilo of cotton is 10,000 to 20,000 liters. Huge quantity of fresh water is also used for the dyeing and finishing process for all of our clothes. As reference, it can take up to 200 tons of fresh water per ton of dyed fabric. Some of the biggest producers of cotton like India or Pakistan are also suffering from high levels of water scarcity.
Besides being a huge water consumer the fashion industry is also a big water polluter. The wastewater that results from the production process contains toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, among others. This water waste is then dumped directly into the rivers being extremely harmful for the aquatic life and the health of million people. By reaching the sea, the contamination eventually spreads very easy around the globe.
When synthetic garment (polyester, nylon, etc) are used in our clothing, microfibers end up in our oceans every time we wash. Those microfibers are ingested then by small aquatic organisms which are eaten by small fish that are later eaten by bigger fish and some of these fishes may end up in our plate.
It is estimated that a family in the western world throws away an average of 30 kg of clothing each year. From this quantity only 15% is recycled or donated, and the rest goes directly to the landfill or is incinerated. In 2014, US landfills gained 10.46 million tons of clothing extra while UK landfills gained 300 000 tons.
In 71% of our clothing synthetic fibers such as polyester are being used. The synthetic fibers are non-biodegradable and can take up to 200 years to decompose,
Chemicals are used during fiber production, dyeing, bleaching, and wet processing of each of our garments.
Cotton production uses almost 10% of all agricultural chemicals and 25% of pesticides which is causing diseases and premature death among cotton farmers, together with massive freshwater and ocean water pollution and, not at last, soil degradation.
Huge amounts of carbon emissions are produced by the apparel industry making it one of the top polluters.
Most of those greenhouse gases result due to the energy used during its production, manufacturing, and transportation of the millions garments purchased each year. Some top producer countries in this industry are powered by coal which is the dirtiest type of energy in terms of carbon emissions.
Synthetic polymers are not grown but manufactured. For example, production of nylon generates nitrous oxide which is a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
As probably everybody already knows the soil a fundamental element of our ecosystem. Evan so, global degradation of soil is one of the main environmental issues our planet presenting a major threat to global food security and contributes to global warming.
Degradation of the soil due to massive use of chemicals to grow cotton or deforestation caused by wood-based fibers like rayon are just a few of the ways in which the fashion industry contributes to soil degradation.
In order to make new plantations of trees used to make wood-based fabrics such as rayon, viscose, and modal, thousands of hectares of endangered and ancient forests are cut down every year, threatening our ecosystem and the indigenous communities.
Alternatives / What we can do about it
The primary driver for all of this, unfortunately, is demand for low cost and, essentially, disposable clothing. So to tackle the problem at its source, the slow fashion movement aim to encourage people to buy quality and durable clothing that is produced in an environmentally sustainable manner.
Some other steps we can take:
- Choose organic fibers and natural fibers that do not require chemicals to be produced.
- Choose clothes made in countries with stricter environmental regulations for factories (EU, Canada, US…).
- Buy less, buy better quality, mend clothes.
- Wash cold, hand dry
- Choose sustainable brands.
As a top tip we suggest finding companies that use alternative solutions to the old, damaging ways of production and distribution. A good example would be the supplier of AnimalEnthusiastStore, Teemill.