There is a lot of news out there these days about how flying, driving cars on gasoline and eating meat has a major impact on climate change and our eroding planet. But how much have you heard about our clothes being responsible for this burden?
Here are 5 truths about how the fashion industry is impacting our planet and people:
1. The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world
The fashion industry leaves a massive footprint on our world.
According to the UN, the fashion industry, contributes to 10% of global greenhouse emissions, and consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industry combined.
The textile industry relies on mostly non-renewable resources - including oil - to produce synthetic fibers, fertilisers to grow cotton, and chemicals to produce, dye and finish fibers and textiles.
If the industry continues on its current path, says the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, by 2050 it could use more than 26% of the carbon budget associated with a 2% global warming limit.
2. The fashion industry is a major water consumer and polluter
Not only does the fashion industry leave a major carbon footprint on our world, it also consumes and pollutes shocking amounts of water.
To give you some numbers:
It can take 2,700 liters to produce the cotton needed to make a single t-shirt, according to the National Geographic.
To make only one pair of denim jeans, 10,000 liters of water are required to grow one kilo of cotton. In comparison, one person would take 10 years to drink 10,000 liters of water, says the UN.
There are also a huge amount of chemicals involved in the process of producing, dyeing and finishing textiles that will end up in our water systemsVibrant colours, prints and fabric finishes are attractive features of fashion garments, but many of these are achieved with toxic chemicals.
Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, right after agriculture.
Some of them are toxic, bio-accumulative (meaning the substance builds up in an organism faster than the organism can get rid of it), disruptive to hormones and carcinogenic; some of these are banned or strictly regulated in some countries.
And to top it of, the fashion industry cumulatively produces about 20% of global waste water.
3. Fashion spills microfibers into our oceans
Washing our clothes from synthetic and non-natural textiles is assumed to contribute to a significant amount of microplastics in our environment, according to a research study from Plymouth University.
The researchers found that an average wash load of 6kg can release over 700,000 fibers per wash.
Acrylic fibers take the lead with around 700,000 fibers per wash, followed by polyester with around 500,000 fibers per wash.
But what does shedding fibers actually mean?
An article in Weforum summarizes it quite well: Polyester is one of the most popular fibers used for clothing. Just check the labels of your clothes and you´ll find that most of your clothes are made out of polyester, and especially your sports clothes.
But what´s the problem with this?
Well, when polyester clothes are washed in washing machines they release microfibers that add to the increasing levels of plastic in our oceans.
These microfibers are extremely tiny particles and can easily pass through sewage and wastewater treatment plants into our waterways.
And because they do not biodegrade, they pose a serious threat to marine life. Small creatures such as plankton eat the microfibres, which then make their way up the food chain to fish and other seafood that we, humans, eat.
There is a lot of talk about PET bottles and other bigger plastics in our oceans right now - but we should not forget that a potentially even bigger threat are the tiny microplastics in our oceans which can´t be collected from our oceans the way PET bottles can - and this way can cause even more harm to our environment, animal life and ultimately to our health.
4. The amount of clothes we consume each year is skyrocketing
In the documentary The True Cost, it says that the world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year - this is 400% more than the amount we consumed just 20 years ago.
According to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, this massive upward spiral is driven by a growing middle-class population across the world and increased per capita sales in developed economies. An expected 400 percent increase in world GDP by 2050 will mean even greater demand for clothing.
But not only do we consume much more clothes than we did just two decades ago, we also throw away our clothes much faster: The average American now generates 82 pounds of textile waste each year.
85% of textiles end up in landfills or are incinerated when most of these materials could be reused, says the UN.
To sum this all up - “fast fashion” is the new norm: As cheap and trendy clothing becomes easily available and affordable, we buy much more clothes, use them less, and throw it away much faster. Ultimately, our planet, and ourselves, have to pay the price for it.
5. We are made to feel “out of trend” after one week
You probably notice that the clothes you see in the stores of your favorite shopping brands change quite often. And this might give you the feeling that you need to constantly buy their new clothes to stay on top of the latest trends. What you bought one month ago might already feel out-of-date today.
So what is happening here?
To increase consumption, “fast fashion” brands have innovated their production and distribution cycles, sometimes getting the garment from the designer to the customer in a matter of a few weeks, instead of months. The number of fashion seasons has increased from two a year to 50 - 100 micro-seasons in one year.
With new seasons being released almost every week, fast fashion companies want us to buy as many garments as possible, as fast as possible. That´s the business model - and has worked for quite some time.
With new trends coming out every week, the goal of fast fashion is for consumers to buy as many garments as possible, as quickly as possible.
All of this is true when it comes to sports clothes. There is lots of it out there, some of it you can already buy for a few bucks, tempting us to buy a lot of it.
The smallest things can make a big difference
Luckily there are simple things you can start doing today that will reduce the burden on our planet and people. In one of my next blog posts I´m going to share with you 5 small things you can do to make a big difference for a cleaner planet.
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