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The Environmental Impacts Of The Fashion Industry

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The Dangers Of Fashion

        When people hear the word “fashion,” they think of clothes, designs and colors. However, fewer people consider the fact that fashion can negatively impact our environment. There are many ways of improving our environment and changing the thoughts of many fast fashion companies to become eco-friendly. Fashion can be created in a safer way and can avoid certain things such as using less non-renewable sources, the use of massive amounts of water and energy, and emission of greenhouse gases. 

The more advanced the fashion industry becomes, the more harm it brings to the environment. Some of the major issues in the fashion industry are water pollution, water consumption, microfibers in the oceans, wastes accumulation, chemical addiction and greenhouse gas emissions.       

Water pollution causes wastewater to contain hazardous substances like lead, mercury and arsenic. These are particularly detrimental to the marine life and wellbeing of millions of people living on riverbanks. Our wellbeing is being jeopardized by the pervasive issue of water contamination. “More than 80 percent of the world’s wastewater flows back into the environment without being treated or reused, according to the United Nations; in some least-developed countries, the figure tops 95 percent.”

Textile factories contain mass amounts of waste because of the toxic chemicals they use to manufacture clothing. Fabrics are sized with polyvinyl chloride, bleached with chlorine to lighten the paint, and colored with benzidine, toluidine and flame retardants, which are known cancer-causing agents. The contamination even enters the sea and gradually spreads all over the world. 

Water Pollution | CREDIT: Gigie Cruz-Sy / Greenpeace

      Moreover, the level of water consumption in the fashion industry is dangerous. The majority of clothing in textile factories require a large amount of freshwater for the dyeing and finishing process. Up to 200 tons of fresh water are used per ton of dyed fabric. This could be avoided by using less water to produce their dyed fabrics. 

       Along with this problem, around 1,900 microfibers are released into the water every time a synthetic garment (polyester, nylon, etc.) is washed, finding its way into the oceans. Scientists have found that such microfibers are eaten by tiny aquatic species. They are then consumed by small fish that are later consumed by larger fish, adding plastic to the  food chain. 

Microfibers in our oceans | CREDIT: Cora Ball/Rozalia Project

      Every year, a family in the Western world throws an average of 30,000 pieces of clothing away, and only 15 percent is recycled or donated. The remainder either goes directly to the landfill or is incinerated. Synthetic fibers are used in the production of most of the clothing that is sold by fast fashion companies. 

Chemicals | CREDIT: The True Cost Movie

        Finally, the sixth issue is the amount of energy that is used during the production, packaging and transportation process of the millions of clothes bought each year. It is safe to say that the global fashion industry produces a huge amount of greenhouse gases. More than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions each year. Although mass-producing clothing in large batches can save money, it can also result in waste if the products do not all sell.

By 2030, the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will have risen by more than 50% if current trends continue. The synthetic fibers used in most clothes (polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc.) are made of fossil fuels, which makes manufacturing them much more energy-intensive than if they were made of natural fibers. 

There are tremendous ways in which these issues could be avoided in the fashion industry. For instance, fashion companies can start using organic fibers, natural fibers, fibers with low water consumption and semi-synthetic fibers rather than the destructive materials currently used. Consumers should start buying less and start purchasing better-quality clothes that are recyclable and reusable. Many innovators are trying to make a change in the fashion industry by providing more sustainable and eco-friendly production alternatives for a greener future.