When it comes to pollution, we usually think of heavy or chemical industries, such as steel manufacturing or oil refining. On the contrary, the fashion industry reminds us of design and beauty. But, the apparel industry is one of the silent contributors to the world’s pollution. At first glance, we see sophistication and glamour, but don’t be fooled. Massive production and consumption in this industry leads to many consequences for the environment.
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY
Writer Deborah Drew of the World Resources Institute pointed out that in comparison with the data in 2000, the level of apparel consumption increased 60 per cent in 2014. The level of material consumption is expected to grow three times from 2000 to 2050.
According to the article The Impact of a Cotton T-shirt, published on worldwildlife.org in 2013, to produce enough cotton for a T-shirt, takes about 2,700 litres of water. Pasty Perry also mentions in her article The Environmental Costs of Fast Fashion published on independent.co.uk that when washing clothes containing polyester – one of the most popular materials of the industry due to its durability – microfibres break off and eventually enter the ocean. This leads to an increase of microfibres in seawater, threatening marine creatures. Based on the Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation’s calculation in the report A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future, if the volumne of material and textiles keep increasing from 2015 to 2050, there will be more than 22 million tonnes of microfibre added to the ocean.
In the book Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys, second edition, author Kate Fletcher notes that during the lifespan of a product, it is the process of washing that has the most impact on the environment. Some of the causes include the chemicals found in detergents, plus water and electricity consumption.
HOW CAN WE HELP IMPROVE THIS SITUATION?
- Change your laundry habits
It may sound crazy but this is just the thing you need to do. By using too much laundry detergent and bleach you over-consume products and further contaminate the water. Reading all the instructions on product labels and sorting your clothing can also save a large amount of energy and water. This is because each product has its own handling instructions depending on the composition of the fabric. For example, you should never wash wool clothing in hot water because it will cause clothes to shrink and needlessly waste energy. Sort your clothes by colour or material when washing, for instance, collect and wash your jeans together instead of washing separately. This will help your clothes last longer and save electricity and water.
- Change your consumption habits
Admittedly, it can be tempting to buy new clothes with new designs appearing every month, but take a moment to analyze what you already have and find the style and material that most appeals to you. Avoid buying something just to keep it in your closet, never to be worn. Always keep in mind that while changing your style can be good, you are your most beautiful when you put on an outfit that makes you have confidence. Some questions to consider when shopping are:
- Do you feel comfortable while wearing this?
- Does it fit you?
- Will you wear this item often?
- Change your habits of disposing of things
Don’t immediately throw away things that you don’t like, because it might suit others. Have you ever heard the quote “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure?” Collect clothes that you no longer use or don’t like and donate them to those who need them. If you are living in Canada, you can bring them to stores such as Value Village. Or with look-like-new items, you can sell them on classified sites such as Kijiji. You can help the environment and also take back some money. Extend the lifespan of products instead of letting them end up in the landfill too early.
CORPORATE ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY OF FASHION BRANDS
Some companies have heard the call. Aldo has a bagless campaign where it replaces shopping bags with eco-friendly shoeboxes. This initiative helped eliminate around seven million single-use shopping bags from the brand globally. Levis is on board, including Care Tags for Our Planet to encourage users to wash their jeans less regularly, line dry instead of using a dryer, and donating used products to charity.
It’s time for all of us to realize the problems and together save the environment.
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