The fashion industry is fuelled by our desire to continuously replenish our wardrobe, but this has led to the growth of an industry that is extraordinarily harmful to the planet. In fact, the fashion industry is considered to be one of the most polluting and damaging industries in the world. In what ways does the fashion industry impact the environment?

Water Pollution

20% of industrial water pollution comes from the treatment and dying of textiles, which results in 200,000 tonnes of dyes being lost to waterways every year. In developing countries (where the majority of textile production takes place), up to 90% of waste water is sent untreated into streams, rivers and oceans, carrying with it toxic lead, mercury, and arsenic. In addition to these production pollutants, further damage is caused by the fertilisers used in production of natural fibres such as cotton.

  • Choose clothes from countries with stricter environmental regulations to reduce the amount of chemicals used and improve the amount of treatment to wastewater.

  • Choose clothing made from organic and natural fibres, which require fewer chemicals in the production process.

 

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Water Consumption

1,500,000,000 litres of water is used by the fashion industry every year. It takes 20,000 litres of water to grow 1kg of cotton and a further 200 tonnes just to dye 1 tonne of fabric. This has led to a major drain on water resources in developing countries, impacting both people living nearby, as well as animals and plants.

  • Choose fibres that have lower water consumption such as linen, hemp, alpaca and recycled cotton, nylon, wool, and polyester.

 

Carbon Emissions

Up to 23kg of carbon emissions are produced for every kilogram of fabric, meaning the fashion industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. This comes from the production and manufacturing processes, as well as the final transportation stages. There are easy ways to help cut down the impact of your clothing.

  • Buy natural fibres to reduce the 70 million barrels of oil used every year to produce polyester.

  • Buy fewer, higher quality clothes that are made locally.

  • Shop in charity shops to promote a circular economy.

 

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Plastic Pollution

190,000 tonnes of microplastic fibres end up in the oceans every year from the washing of clothes. These get eaten by creatures and accumulate in the oceanic food chain, ending up in almost every animal in the ocean and, eventually, on our dinner plates.

  • Choose sustainably sourced natural fibres.

  • Wash on slower spin and lower temperatures.

  • Fill up your washing machine (which will also save water and energy).

  • Only wash clothes when you need to.

  • Buy a Guppy Friend, which catches 99% of fibres lost in the washing machine.

 

Soil Degradation

Soil degradation is a major environmental issue that rarely receives the public attention is deserves. Soil serves many functions that are vital across the globe, including food production and CO2 absorption but, over the last 150 years, half of all topsoil has been lost. The fashion industry contributes to intensified agriculture, deforestation and overgrazing, three factors that account for 93% of all soil degradation.

  • Use recycled or second-hand clothing to reduce the strain on soil.

  • Some fibres are better than others: linen, hemp and alpaca are amongst the most eco-friendly.

 

Waste Accumulation

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A family in the western world can throw away more than 30kg of clothes in a year and 85% of this goes to landfill. A huge proportion of the clothing thrown away is still usable despite being unwanted. 72% of clothing items contain plastic fibres, which take more than 200 years to decompose.

  • Buy clothes only when you need to and make sure they are high quality.

  • Repair ripped or broken clothes yourself or send them to a seamstress/cobbler.

  • Donate unwanted clothes to charity shops.

  • Upcycle broken clothing items to make anything from kitchen towels to colourful rugs.

  • Don’t send any clothes to landfill.

 

It is also important to remember what we do with clothes while we still own them. Only use green dry cleaning services (avoiding any that use toxic perchloroethylene or “perc”). Also remember to use eco-friendly laundry detergent.