Environmental impact of fashion
The fashion industry is one of the major polluting industries in the world. The production and distribution of the crops, fibers, and garments used in fashion all contribute to differing forms of environmental pollution, including water, air, and soil pollution. The textile industry is the second greatest polluter of local freshwater in the world. Some of the main factors that contribute to this industrial caused pollution are the vast overproduction of fashion items, the use of synthetic fibers, and the agriculture pollution of fashion crops.
The amount of new garments bought by Americans has tripled since the 1960s. This exponential increase causes the need for more resources, and the need for a speedier process from which clothes are produced. One of the main contributors to the rapid production of pollution is the rapid production of clothes due to the rapid consumption of customers. Every year the world as a whole consumes more than 80 billion items of clothing. Those clothes contribute to resource pollution and waste pollution, due to the fact that most of these items will one day be thrown out. People are consuming more and they want it for cheaper prices. And the companies producing these cheap items who are making a profit want the clothes as fast as possible, this creates a trend called fast fashion. Fast fashion is "an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers." The idea is that speedy mass production combined with cheap labor will make clothes cheaper for those buying them, thus allowing these fast fashion trends to maintain economic success. The main concern with fast fashion is the clothes waste it produces. According to the Environmental Protection Agency 15.1 million tons of textile clothing waste was produced in 2013 alone. When textile clothing ends up in landfills the chemicals on the clothes, such as the dye, can cause environmental damage by leaching the chemicals into the ground. The excess waste also contributes to the issue of using so many sites just to store waste and garbage. When unsold clothes are burned, it releases CO2 into the atmosphere. As per a World Resources Institute report, 1.2 billion tons of CO2 is released in the atmosphere per year by fast fashion industry. In 2019, it was announced that France was making an effort to prevent companies from this practice of burning unsold fashion items.
Synthetic fibers and natural fibers
Now that there is continuous increase in the amount of clothing that is consumed, another issue that arises is that the clothing is no longer made from natural materials/crops. Clothing used to be produced by mainly "natural fibers" such as wool, cotton or silk. Now there is a switch from natural fibers to inexpensive synthetic textile fibers such as polyester or nylon. Polyester is one of the most popular fibers used in fashion today, it is found in about 60% of garments in retail stores, that is about 21.3 million tons of polyester. The popularity of polyester keep increasing as well, seeing as there was a 157 percent increase of polyester clothing consumption from 2000 to 2015. Synthetic polyester is made from a chemical reaction of coal, petroleum, air and water two of which are fossil fuels. When coal is burned it creates heavy amounts of air pollution containing carbon dioxide. When petroleum is used it creates several air pollutants such as particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and sulfur dioxide. The creation of polyester creates pollution, as well as its finished project. Polyester is "non-biodegradable" meaning it can never be converted to a state that is naturally found in the natural world. Due to all of the time and resources it takes to make polyester and it never being able to revert to a state that can contribute to any natural nutrient cycles polyester can be considered energy intensive with no net gain. When polyester clothing is washed micro plastics are shedding and entering the water system which is leading to micro pollution in water ways, including oceans. Due to the micro pollutants small size it is easy for fish within waterways to absorb them in their body fat. The fish can then be consumed by humans, and these humans will also absorb the polyester micro pollutants in the fish in a process called biomagnification.
While it has been stated that synthetic fibers are having a negative impact on the environment, natural fibers also contribute to pollution through agricultural pollution. Cotton production requires a large amount of pesticides and water use. Cotton is considered the world's dirtiest crop because it uses 16% of the world's pesticides. Two of the main ingredients in pesticides are nitrates and phosphates. When the pesticides leak into stream systems surrounding the cropland the nitrates and phosphates contribute to water eutrophication. Water eutrophication is an environmental phenomenon that causes a depletion of oxygen when the nutrient overload from pesticides causes a boom in plant growth and death. Wool is made from the fur of sheep and sheep are ruminants hence producing methane (a very potent greenhouse gas). The same problem exists for leather as cattle are ruminants too. For temperate zones, linen (which is made from flax) is considered a better alternative. Also, hemp also seem a good choice. Textile made from seaweed is also on the horizon. As an alternative to leather, biofabricated leather would be a good choice.
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- Is linen the new cotton?
- Ecological Footprint of Cotton Hemp and Polyester
- A Review on Milkweed Fiber Properties as a High-Potential Raw Material in Textile Applications
- Great Potential of Stinging Nettle for Sustainable Textile and Fashion