Behind the oil industry, the fashion industry is the second largest contributor to global pollution in the world. Every element of garment production is responsible for this devastation, from production and manufacturing, to shipping and transportation. Because this issue is so overwhelmingly large, it can be difficult to begin wondering what habits of ours contribute to this tragedy, and how we can begin being more ethical in fashion. In this article, I will explain what ways fashion is harmful to the environment, and give suggestions on how we can begin to combat this issue.
Water is one of the largest elements affected by the fashion industry. From toxic chemicals leaking into water sources and destroying ecosystems, to gallons being used to grow the plants used for natural fibers. Here are some of the ways water is polluted, as well as proposed solutions on how to resolve this issue.
Problem: Toxins in Dyes and Fertilisers
Harmful chemicals such as sulphur, naphthol, and various are found in fabric dyes. These highly poisonous ingredients are getting leaked into waterways through untreated dye bath dumping, or fertilizer and pesticide runoff. Incidents such as these damage both aquatic and land ecosystems. 90% of wastewaters from textile-related projects produced in developing nations are released into waterways without proper treatment.
Problem: Water Quantities
Alongside toxic chemicals in dye baths and fertilizers, water is consumed in large quantities for the purposes of water plants used for natural fibers ( textiles ) and for creating dye baths to dye textiles. It takes up to 200 tons of fresh water to produce 1 ton of dyed fabric. Three years ago in 2018, there was an estimated 17 million tons of fabric generated in the United States alone. This indicates that 3,400,000,000 tonnes of water was consumed. Approximately 30 million Americans did not have access to safe drinking water that same year.
In India and Central Asia where a significant amount of the world’s cotton is grown, a similar type of crisis is occurring. Cotton is a textile used in a variety of household and apparel textiles. The plant itself requires lots of water in order for it to grow and thrive. It takes more than 20,000 liters to produce 1 kilogram of cotton. This is taking a dramatic effect in this corner of the world. Cotton production in Central Asia has contributed to the drying of the Aral Sea. In India, 85% of India’s drinking needs would be solved by the amount of water used each year to produce cotton. It has been reported that 100 million people in India do not have access to clean drinking water.
Approximately 1.5 trillion liters of water are consumed for textile purposes each year for these reasons. Meanwhile, across the globe an estimated 750 million individuals lack fresh water resources. These statistics are devastating. As participants in fashion, whether beginning your own fashion line, or those who are interested in the clothing they wear, this problem is our own to resolve. Here are some simple solutions to fighting the water crisis in fashion.
Solution: Use More Sustainable Textiles
Because the water crisis is due to the growth, production, and manufacturing of textiles, it is wise to choose more sustainable textiles. As discussed in my previous article HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST FABRIC FOR YOUR GARMENT there are lots of sustainable options to choose from for your next garment of interior project. For example, Hemp is a sustainable textile option. The hemp plant is grown with very little water. With no pesticides or artificial fertilizers necessary, it cuts down on poisons released into the environment. Another sustainable textile choice is organic cotton. Though conventional cotton is problematic, organic cotton is grown without pesticides or inorganic fertilizers. Organic linen grown from the flax plant is an option as well. What makes this fiber sustainable is its harvesting method. The entire flax plant is harvested and used in the production process of linen. If you choose to leave linen in its tan organic form, then it will cut out chemicals in the water and material, thus preventing toxic pollution.
Solution: Go Organic
Alongside using plants that were organically grown and harvested, consider incorporating more organic substances into the production or manufacturing process of your textile. For example, organic fertilizers are a way to eliminate toxins from the growing process of plants. Furthermore, using organic dyes that replace chemical dyes with natural coloring from plants and insects is an ethical alternative as well.
Problem: Microfibers and Microplastics
Microplastics and fibers are an overlooked yet serious issue in fashion. Along with toxic chemicals from fertilizer and dyes, these inorganic organisms destroy ecosystems.
Toxic chemicals are not the only substance being released into our waterways. Each time a synthetic garment is washed, it releases on average up to 1900 filaments into its washing water. When this water is distributed into main waterways, it is eaten by organisms such as fish or algae, thus becoming a part of the food chain. When we ingest fish or any other creature that has ingested algae or fish, we too ingest these fibers. This issue not only affects the environment, but it affects us as well.
In addition to fraying fibers in synthetic materials, microplastics used to create artificial textiles are a rising issue as well. These issues are twice as harmful in newer garments than old garments and textiles. 85% of human generated waste found on shorelines is textile-generated microplastics. Last year, over 190,000 microplastic material was found in the world’s oceans. These too can be ingested by organisms, making their way up the food chain until these same materials are on our dinner plates.
Problem: Greenhouse Gasses
Greenhouse gases are created from the production, manufacturing, and shipping of textile products across the globe. Greenhouse gases and fossil fuels are also accumulated by the creation of synthetic material, which requires more energy than creating natural textiles. To help this, businesses can partner with manufacturers in companies that have banned coal-propelled manufacturing and opt for renewable energy instead.
Problem: Soil Degradation
A majority of textiles are used in apparel or household settings.On average, the average lifetime of a garment is three years. As a result of this, these textiles are to be thrown away at some point, either due to stains or because they have been outdated by newer trends. On average, only 15% of purchased clothing is worn. When thrown away, A majority of textiles produced can take up to 200 years to decompose. These garments then pile up in landfills across the globe, taking up space and damaging soil.
Garments overrunning landfills is not the only soil-related issue faced by the fashion industry. Many textiles such as cotton and cashmere are manufactured from natural fibers. Natural fibers are derived from either plant or animal organisms. These textiles are typically more sustainable compared to synthetic fibers because they are more decomposable. However, there is a dark side to this debate, soil degradation and overgrazing.
Overgrazing is caused by an increase in animal habituation in a specific area. Animals such as the Kashmir goat who produces wool used in cashmere sweaters. As reported by the _ in 2019, Magnolia is facing a farming crisis with Kashmir goats. Due to an exploiting demand for cashmere wool, Mongolia’s grasslands are being ruined.
In other parts of the world, soil degradation is occurring from unique plants used to create textiles. Cotton for instance requires lots of water, pesticides, and fertilizers in order for it to thrive. As I have stated before, these chemicals are degrading the soil it is grown in. Furthermore, it takes lots of cleared space in order for plants to thrive. _ requires lots of sunlight, which requires a large amount of deforestation.
Large plots of land are often cleared in order to create space for plants and animals that will later create textile fibers to inhabit. Wood used from trees cleared in order for this to occur are used for wood based fiber textiles such as rayon.
There are many solutions to help minimize this global issue. To reduce soil degradation, choose fibers that impact the soil less, such as flax or hemp. It is also wise to use organic fertilizers and dyes to reduce the quantity of toxins becoming infused in our soil. I also encourage you to reduce the number of clothing you purchase, repair stained and damaged clothing before throwing them away, and recycle any clothing that no longer fits you.
Solution: Going Organic
The idea of ingesting microplastics is disturbing for everyone. We can however take steps to prevent this. Steps such as choosing natural, organically sourced, or semi-synthetic materials to construct your projects out of. Sustainable textiles will cut out microplastics and microfibers out of ecosystems and food chains… and our stomachs.
Why Should I Care?
No longer can human beings deny how significant climate change has impacted our daily life. Climate change can cause extreme weather incidents, droughts, poor air quality, diseases carried by insects and rodents, and heat threats. Rising temperatures and decaying ecosystems are changing the world we live in. Humans can not keep denying that these issues are occurring in our day to day life. If we continue down this path, the world that we live in will change as we know it.
The Fashion Industry is the catalyst for many harmful pollutants found in our environment. The earth’s soil and waterways are being polluted by toxic chemicals found in dyes and fertilizers.Tonnes of water is used to quench plants used for textiles, while millions of people around the globe live without having access to clean drinking water. Microplastics and Microfibers are poisoning food chains. Though these issues seem out of our control, there are ways we can combat this issue. We can change what fabric we wear and choose more sustainable and biodegradable options. We can partner with countries whose industries run on clean energy. We can recycle clothing, and purchase upcycled garments and textiles. With these small business and lifestyle changes, we can begin to rebuild the earth.