Earth Day is a time to reflect on the impact we have on the planet. When it comes to the fashion industry, that impact is vast. Here are five facts that you should know about the fashion industry
Environmental impact. From the production of raw materials to the end of life, the fashion industry generates numerous environmental impacts. Raw material production and manufacturing pollute the air and water. Emissions are released when clothing is transported from markets in the developing world to the developed world, where our laundering habits release even more pollutants. Finally, large amounts of textile waste are generated by short-lasting, low-quality clothes.
Waste. Speaking of waste, producing 1 tonne of textiles generates 1000kg of solid waste. On the consumer end, things aren’t much better. In America, it is estimated that 31kg of clothing per person is thrown away each year. In Canada, that figure is estimated between 7kg-14kg.
Toxins. The manufacturing of clothing often involves the use of harmful chemicals. cotton, wool, rayon and leather are textile materials that all use harmful chemicals in their production process. A study from Stockholm University looked at 60 garments from various clothing chains. The study found a variety of potentially harmful chemicals that could wash off and pollute our water environments or generate health risks to humans in the long-run.
Plastic. Aside from the usual suspects, i.e., the bags you carry your clothes in, and the plastic new clothes sometimes come wrapped in plastic is being used in the production of clothing itself. Clothing is increasingly being made with polyester, a polymer variety that is a plastic. Thanks to a large demand for clothing, and the limitations on producing garments from other materials such as cotton, polyester in clothing has seen a boom.
What can you do about this? First, learn to do more with less. If you are financially able, buy higher-quality clothes that will last longer and won’t end up in the landfill after a few wears. Second, do less laundry. Your clothes don’t need to be washed as often as you think. Unless you have children coming home with dirt-covered clothes after a day on the playground, you can probably get away with wearing most of your clothes multiple times before washing. Washing can be the most environmentally impactful stage of a garment’s life cycle. You can play a significant role in reducing the environmental impact of clothing by doing less laundry. Third, look for clothing with labels that claim to be free of harmful chemicals. But do your own research. Make sure the claims are certified by a third-party. Further, be mindful that ‘organic’ clothing is not a guarantee that it will be free of harmful chemicals, a fact pointed out in the Stockholm study. Fourth, send a message to the big brands that you want clothing free of harmful chemicals, and minimal environmental impact. Don’t buy that latest piece just because it’s appealing. Buy a piece of clothing because it meets good environmental standards.