The environment is paying the price for our love of style. The fashion industry produces 10% of all humanity's carbon emissions––more than all international flights and maritime shipping. It is the second-largest consumer of the world's water supply, and it pollutes the oceans with microplastics.
One of the biggest problems is fast fashion––inexpensive clothing rapidly produced. This enables brands to offer recurring new collections and cheaper garments. Zara puts out 24 collections per year, while H&M offers between 12 and 16. Clothing production doubled from 2000 to 2014––even though these clothes were kept for half as long––and the number of garments purchased each year by the average consumer had increased by 60 percent.
Fashion also causes water-pollution problems. Textile dyeing is the world’s second-largest polluter of water because the waste water leftover from the dyeing process is often dumped into ditches, streams, or rivers. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), "it takes around 2,000 gallons of water to make a typical pair of jeans. That’s more than enough for one person to drink eight cups per day for 10 years."
Washing clothes is another crucial factor. It releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year, which is the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. A 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all microplastics––very small pieces of plastic that never biodegrade––in the ocean came from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester. Producing polyester, which is found in an estimated 60% of garments, releases two to three times more carbon emissions than cotton, and polyester does not break down in the ocean.
In addition to the ecological impact, an estimated 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year. "The equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second," stated the UNEP.
Because of these factors, the fashion industry is contributing to the climate crisis on a vast scale . The increase in sales suggests that most shoppers are either unaware or willing to overlook environmental costs of fast fashion. Even the greenest garments use resources for production and transport to your home, creating some environmental impact. That is why it is crucial that as consumers we:
1. Buy less.
2. Buy clothes from sustainable brands. You can find our favorite sustainable brands in the section The Brands We Like.
3. Buy better quality. This will push brands to improve the quality of their garments while allowing us to keep our clothes longer, which is good for the environment and our wallets.
4. Buy second hand, swap and rent clothing
5. Remain aware of how and when you use a washing machine
6. Think twice before throwing out clothes. Most of them consist of synthetic, non-biodegradable fiber and will just pile up in the landfill. Instead, try to repair, donate or recycle them.