How does the clothing industry affect our Environment?

The fashion industry represents an important part of our economies, with a value of more than 2.5 trillion $USD and employing over 75 million people worldwide. The sector has seen spectacular growth over the past decades, as clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014. While people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than in 2000, they only kept the clothes for half as long.

While the fashion sector is booming, increasing attention has been brought to the impressive range of negative environmental impacts that the industry is responsible for. Fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams. What’s more, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year, and washing some types of clothes sends a significant amount of *microplastics* into the ocean.

The Environmental Footprint of Fast Fashion

  • The equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second.
  • Approximately 60% of all materials used by the fashion industry are made from plastic.
  • 500,000 tons of microfibers are released into the ocean each year from washing clothes, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.
  • The fashion industry is responsible for 8-10% of humanity’s carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. If the fashion sector continues on its current trajectory, that share of the carbon budget could jump to 26% by 2050
  • Some 93 billion cubic metres of water – enough to meet the needs of five million people – is used by the fashion industry annually, contributing significantly to water scarcity in some regions.
  • Around 20% of industrial wastewater pollution worldwide originates from the fashion industry.

Fast fashion also has a human cost:  textile workers, primarily women in developing countries, are often paid derisory wages and forced to work long hours in appalling conditions. In many places, these conditions create infringements on human rights (Human Rights Watch). Use of chemicals in clothes production also raises serious health concerns, both for the workers in the industry and consumers. Additional impacts on health also arise from the pollution described previously.

The environmental and social cost of the fashion industry forces us to rethink fast fashion, and stresses the need for more sustainable business models and practices. Resources hereunder provide additional information on the environmental impacts of fashion, and potential pathways for change.

The drop in garment prices over the last 20 years has allowed us to buy more and more clothes. We now have 5 times more clothes than our grandparents had. It felt great until we found out what was hiding behind this trend.

In reality, this continuous accumulation of cheap garments is only possible because of a constant reduction of production costs. This, in turn, has serious consequences on our health, our planet, and on garment workers’ lives.

Why Fast fashion is a monster in our closets

1) Garment quality is declining every year. As a result, our clothes immediately look faded, shapeless, or worn out.

2) Trends are changing so quickly that we cannot keep up. We continue to purchase just to stay up to date.

This is Fast Fashion: Mass-production of cheap, disposable clothing. Countless new collections per year make us feel constantly out of date and encourage us to keep buying more.

What can we do about it?

Choose clothes made in countries with stricter environmental regulations for factories 

Choose organic fibers and natural fibers that do not require chemicals to be produced

Choose fibers with low water consumption such as linen, recycled fibers, etc

Choose natural or semi-synthetic fibers

Choose sustainable brands

So, these were some of the impacts that the clothing industry has on our environment. We hope this info helps you make wise and sustainable choices on your next shopping day.