Is Fast Fashion Terrible for the Environment?

The ongoing technological advancements and the establishment of the scientific era have made the globe significantly narrower. To maintain their personality, people are familiar with fashionable clothes. The demand for people in fashion has increased tremendously in recent days. Over the years, you could visualize that in the name of fast fashion, the rate of pollution in the environment has been elevated at an alarming rate. The massive contributor to fast fashion is the one and only human.

A scenario of clothes production in the industry

  • According to the data from 2015, roughly 79 billion cubic meters of water are required for the textile and clothing industry. Around 2700 liters of water is necessary to produce one designable t-shirt. It shows how much water we need since we are heading towards the fast fashion era. 
  • The data reveals that around 0.5 million tons of microfibers from the washing industry are released into the seas and oceans each year without pre-treatment. Ironically, it contributes about 35 % of the microplastics released into nature.
  • It’s very stressful to depict that the textile industry uses roughly 2000 chemicals to produce multiple fashionable clothes. The textile industry, which creates numerous clothes, is inferred as the most pollutants releasing sector all across the globe.
  • During clothes manufacturing by the textile industry and dying the products, it is estimated to create water pollution by 20% all around the globe. Around 5.8 % of the total municipal solid waste per year is generated from textile wastes singly, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • In March 2020, the European Commission adopted a circular economy action plan, entailing the European Union strategy for the production of textiles. It aims to remain a carbon-neutral and eco-friendly economy by the year 2050.

Impacts of fast fashion on the environment

The fashion industry leads the third largest sector in terms of clothes production. Most fashion and textile industries have not considered the environmental factors during the clothes manufacturing process. There are severe environmental impacts on the textile industry that produce clothes in a large amount. Some of them are:

1. Releasing of greenhouse gases

Blue co2 releasing
Blue co2 releasing | Image Credit – Pixabay

The data of 2018 lamented that clothing production accounts for 10 % of the Greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. The primary source of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is the carbon dioxide released from the boilers and the diesel used in the clothing factories.

2. Food chain

Plastic is turning the ocean into minefield
Plastic is turning the ocean into a minefield | Image Credit – National Geographic

All the microplastics are finally piled up in the food chain of an ecosystem. It hampers the terrestrial and aquatic creatures for a prolonged period, affecting prey-predator relationships. When the primary consumer is affected by the aquatic ecosystem’s microplastics, it hampers the secondary consumer and the tertiary consumer. The apex predator gets highly affected by the microplastics released in the name of fast fashion.

3. Releasing of the wastes at a large volume

In clothes production, numerous wastes are released. The water used during fashionable clothes processing is thrown up directly into the water resources such as lakes, rivers, and the oceans—considering the European countries, more people have bought fashionable clothes. It’s a very bitter truth to yell that the Europeans use textiles of 26 kilograms and discard as much, around 11 kilos every year.

4. Deterioration of the water quality

Dirty Water in slums because of fast fashion
Dirty Water in slums because of fast fashion | Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons

The hazardous chemicals used in the clothes and textiles production are disposed of in the water, which deteriorates the water quality, causing massive water pollution. Textile wastes cover approximately 5 % of all landfill sites. The factory and the industries pollute the land and are unfit for land use. 

Once released into the soil and the groundwater, the hazardous wastes increase metals such as lead, cadmium, iron, and chromium in higher amounts. Textile industries release this harmful chemical during fiber production, yarn preparation, dyeing, finishing, assembly, and distribution. 

Once disposed of in the river, the harmful chemicals may influence the aquatic living creatures, and through the infiltration and the runoff, the substances might spread to the seas and the oceans. Many fertilizers have been used widely for cotton production to manufacture fashionable cotton clothes.

Once we wash a synthetic detergent, around 1900 individual microfibers get released into the water. 60 % of all clothes are produced using synthetic fibers. The tiny aquatic organisms ingest the released microfibers unknowingly. 

The small fish consume the microscopic marine organisms and, later on, are eaten by the larger fish. It reflects that even the organisms face plastic pollution induced by the detergent industries in the aquatic food chain. Flowing the microfibers through the drainage system of water impacts directly used to produce fashionable clothes.

For the colorful cloth items, the dyeing industry uses very toxic chemicals that release into a water body and change the watercolor in a specific period.

5. Land degradation

Throwaway Fashion
Throwaway Fashion | Image Credit – Sky News

The synthetic fibers which are used for clothing are non-degradable. The wastes emitted from the clothing get persistent in the land for a prolonged period since they cannot be decomposed timely and take around 200 years to decompose. The land could be unfit for agricultural and other purposes. It could have detrimental effects on the agricultural yield, thereby deteriorating the soil condition for a prolonged period. 

The interval of 200 years is not small. Apart from these, to produce 1 kilogram of cotton 20, 000 liters of water are required. The printing liquids used by the textile industry negatively impact the water quality and the aquatic organisms badly. 

Since the drainage system is associated with soil infiltration, too, the clothing industry is one of the responsible causes that degrade the soil quality, which is unsuitable for various land use purposes. The soil could be destroyed by the clothing and the textile industry in several ways. It entails using excessive chemicals to grow cotton, sheep raised heavily for wool production, and more. 

Since more people are demanding new fashionable clothes, several retailers are producing non-durable and inexpensive clothes, which acts as a severe burden on tackling the issues regarding land conservation.

6. Air pollution

The actual cost of fast fashion | Video Credit – The Economist

Many of the thermos packs and diesel generators are used in the clothing industry. It produces pollutants in the atmosphere, thereby causing air pollution. High emissions of harmful air pollutants could increase the level of Greenhouse gases leading to global warming in the long term. 

Concerning air pollution, the textile industry releases multiple toxic gases and chemicals such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), nitrous oxides, Sulphur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, chlorine, and carbon dioxide during clothing manufacturing, and so on. 

Emission of the greenhouse gases by synthetic fibers like polyester at the larger spatial scales has troublingly impacted our environment day by day. In 2015, approximately 706 billion kilograms of greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere. 

Since the fashion industry releases harmful gases into the atmosphere during the production, manufacturing, and transportation of clothes, it becomes difficult to eradicate the problem within a short time interval.

In general, the countries entailing India, China, and Bangladesh produce millions of clothes using coal. Coal is considered a barrier to the eco-friendly approach, promotes air pollution, and influences the cleaning of the environment. 

Scientists and researchers predicted harming the atmosphere by the textile and the fashion industry will be about to rise from 2020 to 2030.

7. Noise pollution

Noisy fashion | Image Credit – Guardian

The clothing factories produce noise pollution as well. Once the toxic pollutants are released into the atmosphere, they contaminate the air, water, and land. It is expected to degrade the ecosystem of the textile industry in the year 2030 by 136 %

Regarding the living creatures’ health, the heavy noise produced from the diesel generators for a long time could create hearing loss in the eye and skin diseases from the chemicals used to dye the color during coat manufacturing in the industry. Additionally, byssinosis problems could have occurred from the weaving and spinning mills in the clothing and textile factories. 

8. Desertification

Desertification
Desertification | Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons

For producing just one kilogram of cotton, continuous clean water may create water scarcity in the coming days. It could result massively in the Aral Sea desertification by draining the water during cotton production. Since most countries rely upon cotton production for their export business, the drought conditions created in the long term could affect both the national and international revenue. 

9. The economy of the nation

Around 3781 liters of water is required to produce a pair of fashionable jeans from the cotton production to the final stage, equivalent to 33.4 kilograms of carbon. Ironically, less than 1 % of the used clothes are recycled into new garments. It directly influences the economy of the nation as well. More troublingly, 500 million USD gets lost in producing the clothes since the clothes are not recycled, worn, or end up in landfill sites.

A solution to fast fashion in the environment

The lifestyle of the people is changing day by day. They are willing to wear branded clothes. In introducing branded clothes, the textile industries have been producing the clothes at an immense amount according to the customer demand. They do not seek the environmental impacts of cloth manufacturing. Following are the solutions to fast fashion in the environment.

1. Clothes donation

UNMISS staff members donate food and clothes at a women’s hospital in Rumbek
UNMISS staff members donate food and clothes at a women’s hospital in Rumbek | Image Credit – Flickr

The old clothes could be distributed to the homeless people and donated to the clothing home. It could undoubtedly reduce the volume of the unwanted clothes and piling up the wastes in the landfills sites is decreased to a large extent.

But it requires a large number of sophisticated technologies which the developed and the developing countries could not afford at once. Throwing the clothes as waste is always not a permanent solution.

The trend of purchasing the clothes primarily and wearing them significantly less has been elevated in recent years worldwide. It is far better to donate the clothes to needy people rather than piling them up at the landfill site at the end. 

2. Shifting the alternative fiber technology

Textile Fibers
Textile Fibers | Image Credit – Audaces

Synthetic fibers are very harmful and catch fire easily. They are non-biodegradable and cause soil pollution. When the soil gets polluted, it severely impacts the groundwater. Instead of using synthetic fibers, which harms our environment, it is very substantial to shift towards alternative fiber sources for the clothing industry. 

The alternative fibers are eco-friendly since they are biodegradable naturally, durable, and repellant to dust particles and mold. Thus, alternative fiber technology should get promoted in the textile and the clothing industry. 

3. Refining the clothes

It seems of utmost necessity to measure the environmental impacts before manufacturing any types of clothes by the textile industries on the customer’s demand. We could fix the old clothes through refining. 

For instance, Patagonia’s Worn Wear Program offers old fixing clothes rather than selling new fashionable clothes. Several brands established so far have been fighting against the textile wastes released from the industries and the factories. 

It does matter what type of clothes the company has produced and how it dealt with environmental conservation. The H & M, EcoAlf, Madewell, and The North Face have promoted second-hand and recycled clothes. 

The unwanted clothing must drop off immediately to protect the environment sustainably. It will help you with the quality of clothes rather than the number of clothes. Repairing the clothing could contribute significantly to launching the eco-friendly approach.

4. Application of pollution-free technology and extensive research 

Research on eco-friendly clothes manufacture process | Image Credit – Jacobs School of Engineering

While dealing with fashionable products, technology, extensive research, and significant investment seem foremost. The use of pollution-free technology during the manufacturing of the clothes could be the best effort. Fitting the pollutants resisting equipment could contribute to less pollution during the clothes production in the textile factories. 

5. Alternatives application

Approaching the alternatives such as Aloe Vera, vitamin A, and beeswax to soften the fabric for clothes production seems better. Organic cotton production reduces the volume of inorganic wastes in the environment. Numerous activities target a safer environment for the textile and fashion industries, including using effluent treatment plants before releasing the chemicals and wastes into the water resources and adopting the chemical chimney in every clothing factory.

The fashion industries’ application of air dyeing technology and the oxygen-based bleaching method could undoubtedly be a fruitful option in protecting the environment.

Besides being stylish, you should not concentrate only on designable clothes’ instead, think about the environmental harms resulting from the production of trendy garments day by day that ruins nature.

The recycling system, exchanging the clothes, renting the clothes upon need, and donating the clothes to the clothes bank are eco-friendly methods that assist hugely in tackling the environmental crisis caused by the textile wastes from several factories and industries.

6. Shifting in consumer purchasing attitude

Depending on how many times you would wear the items you prefer to buy, you could purchase the clothes. It could reduce the habit of purchasing more and wasting it by wearing it only once or twice. 

7. Eco-friendly designation of the clothes

From Plastic Bottles To Snow Jackets | Video Credit – Picture Organic Clothing

We can promote the eco-friendly clothes designation. For example, it is possible to manufacture jackets from recycled bottles, shoes from algae and recycled plastics, and conversion of blankets and curtains into coats and jackets. It can assist hugely in utilizing the worn clothes so far. The clothes can be designed in several ways that target the eco-friendly approach.

Conclusion

The fashion industry, which produces fashionable clothes according to the customer’s demand and requirements, impacts air, land, and water directly or indirectly. It seems foremost to invest hugely in the clothes recycling system by the government. The public-private partnership is always substantial in conducting the partnership programs regarding the eco-friendly approach. Upon negligence to our environment in the name of lousy fashion, we will inevitably be the victim of massive environmental deterioration. 

Kalpana Ghimire

Kalpana Ghimire holds a post-graduate degree in Environmental Science from Nepal. She possesses numerous research experiences working in water pollution, community forestry, environment conservation status, and wildlife ecology. She was an internee in the Department of Environment (EIA monitoring and auditing section) under the Government of Nepal. Kalpana Ghimire is an avid traveler, an enthusiastic wildlife researcher, and has a huge passion for working in the environment sector. She loves far traveling to the natural areas, conducting field wildlife research and reading the novels.
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