“I have nothing to wear!” Raise your hands if you’re guilty of uttering these words standing in-front of a jam-packed wardrobe. With the holiday season fresh on the horizon, and Black Friday tempting us with all its bargains, it’s tempting to go out and treat yourself to a new wardrobe. Hey, a new year needs a new you. Am I right? But before you go on your shopping spree, you can’t overlook the fact that every single piece of fashion has an impact on the environment. We’ve already looked at the major air and water issues associated with clothing, but what is it doing to the earth?
Fashion and textile industries’ have always produced production and consumer-related waste but the sheer amounts we’re dealing with to date has become a source of strong environmental concern. Appeasing the beast that is fast fashion has placed the environment under a considerable amount of pressure. Some of the issues it’s been subjected to include:
You get a landfill, we all get a landfill
Waste generation starts even before the garments are completed and shipped to their respective stores or designers. It’s estimated that 10 – 20% of all the fashion industry’s textiles goes to waste. Then add on the 15% of fabric that ends up on the cutting room floor and discarded. Purewaste – a company that makes garments and fabrics from 100% recycled textile waste estimates that despite the fact that over 70% of the world’s population uses second hand clothing, millions of tons of textiles are still ending up in landfills. For example, Hong Kong will send over 250 tons of textiles to landfills on a daily basis. That’s just one city!
The sad fact is, no one is repairing clothes anymore. It’s more common today to throw out a new top just because a button has popped off or a zipper has gone bust, than to see someone sitting with a needle and thread repairing it. Do hand-me-downs even happen anymore? Thus, 95% of landfill’s contents are items that could have easily been recycled or reused. Unlike other household waste, textiles are bulky and take up quite a bit of space. Hence the growing number. And the ones that are biodegradable, do so at the cost of releasing harmful air pollutants such as methane; which it said to be 20 times more harmful than CO2.
And it’s not just the textiles taking up space, but the packaging it comes in too. A great deal is used throughout the apparel industry’s structure. From the packaging used in the transportation and distribution to the final retail packaging that the consumers receive and eventually discard. With all this ‘trash’ sitting around in the earth, the toxins they possess also begin to seep into the earth. Incinerating these piles isn’t a better option either, as this not only consumes energy, but contributes to fashion’s air pollution tally.
The demand for more land
The demand for more clothes will naturally increase the need for natural fibre production. And that requires more land, especially with the influx of intensively grown monocultures. Monocultures refers to the massive cultivation of a single crop in a designated area for an extended period of time. Over time, this leads to land degradation since having the same plant on the same stretch of soil will deplete it of nutrients’ faster. It can be argued that chemical fertiliser can help with this, but that requires A LOT of it, which ends up contaminating the soil and surrounding water sources; including groundwater. Having the same plant will lead to the loss of biodiversity which eliminates organic pest management and increases the reliance on agrochemicals (which includes insecticides, defoliants and herbicides).
This can be witnessed through conventional cotton farming. This plant, which relies on large-scale industrial processes, uses more than 10% of the world’s pesticides and about 25% of its insecticides; among other agrochemicals it requires to thrive. Unfortunately, the plant doesn’t take up all these agrochemicals, and instead either leaches them into the soil and water or disperses them into the air. A large number of these pesticides are considered to have varying deposits of human carcinogens such as diuron, acephate, trifluralin dichloropropene, and fluometuron to mention a few.
Some stages of the manufacturing process in the textile industry have been known to use acidic or hazardous chemicals, which tend to be released in their wastewaters or by-products. The production of common synthetics such as polyester and nylon not only release greenhouse gases, but also release hazardous toxins such as heavy metal cobalt, titanium dioxide, and sodium bromide into the environment when wastewater isn’t treated. Rayon (a textile fibre or fabric made from regenerated cellulose) on the other hand, only represents four percent of the market yet the process required to manufacture it are chemically intensive as well as play a major role in deforestation and pollution in countries such as Indonesia that make it. For example, Carbon Disulphide, a solvent used to make viscose rayon, is a toxic chemical that has been classified as a Human reproductive hazard; often affecting not only the textile factory workers but the surrounding environment and communities when discharged in wastewater and air emissions.
It’s no secret that textile production processes result in large amounts of toxic and non-toxic waste. But it’s getting harder to hide the solid waste, or the effects of its impact we may add. By buying a garment on the spur of the moment and then never wearing it, all the energy that was consumed to make it goes to waste. Additional energy will then go into disposing of it when you decide to throw it out to make room for newer clothing buys. Not to mention the heaps and graves that exist just from the lifestyle of excess the world has become accustomed to.
While the textile industry has some cleaning up to do on their end, it’s clear that a lot of the change has to start with the consumer. It’s imperative that shoppers start to change the way they think and buy products. Pressurizing brands to make less and improve in quality and up their green-level ranking. But how do you change the mind-set of an entire generation that is addicted to instant gratification?