The Environmental Impacts of Fashion: A Comprehensive Review
The world of fashion is dazzling and dynamic, representing an impressive 2.5 trillion USD of our economies and employing over 75 million people worldwide. However, beneath the shine and appeal, there lies a concerning side to the fashion industry. As this sector grows, the negative environmental impacts associated with it are emerging into public awareness.
This piece details the environmental footprint of the fashion industry, underlining the need for a greener approach to fashion and textile production - a pillar of sustainability.
Fashion's Environmental Footprints: A Distressing Reality
Fashion production contributes to a shocking 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions. It drains water sources and pollutes rivers and streams, making it a significant factor in the ongoing global environmental crisis.
Every year, 85% of all textiles end up dumped, adding to landfill woes worldwide. Furthermore, when we wash some types of clothes, we unwittingly allow a considerable amount of microplastics to flow into the ocean.
In a horrifying statistic, the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burnt or dumped in a landfill every second. Approximately 60% of all materials used in the fashion industry come from plastic. Each year, the washing of clothes releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean, equivalent to 50 billion plastic bottles.
Coupling this with the ongoing climate crisis, and the fashion sector's carbon emissions higher than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, the need for sustainable solutions becomes urgent.
Fast Fashion's Human Cost
Behind the cheap price tags of fast fashion are the grim working conditions endured by millions of textile workers, primarily women in developing countries. They receive paltry wages for long working hours, often under appalling conditions.
Chemicals used in clothing production raise serious health concerns for both workers and consumers. Pollution from the industry also indirectly impacts people's health.
These substantial environmental and social costs urge us to reconsider fast fashion, advocating for more sustainable business models and operational practices.
The Role of Synthetic Textiles
Post-Second World War, the fashion industry underwent a transformation with the advent of synthetic textiles like polyester and nylon. Global consumption of synthetic fibres shot from a few thousand tonnes in 1940 to a staggering 60 million tonnes in 2018.
However, these plastic-based textiles significantly affect the environment and climate throughout their lifecycle, due to greenhouse gases and pollutant emissions. Microplastics from textiles, estimated between 200,000 and 500,000 tonnes annually, contribute to 35% of oceanic microplastics pollution.
Initiatives towards Sustainable Fashion
The UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, launched during the fourth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4), aims to put an end to environmentally and socially destructive fashion practices. The Alliance enhances collaboration among UN agencies, identifying solutions, and presenting findings to governments to urge policy changes.
Additional international organizations work on fostering more sustainable fashion activities, recognizing the role of fashion value chains in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For example, the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Change outlines a roadmap to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 within the textile, clothing, and fashion industries.
Cotton's Environmental Impact
Cotton is among the most common fabrics used for clothing. However, conventional cotton production practices result in soil erosion, water contamination, and other forms of pollution. Therefore, there's an undeniable need to support sustainable cotton production models to favor the SDGs.
Toward a More Sustainable Fashion
While international organizations, governments, and businesses strive to guide the fashion industry towards a more sustainable pathway, consumers can support change through mindful daily actions. Choosing sustainable alternatives, extending the life cycle of garments by donating or recycling, and reducing overall consumption are steps towards a more sustainable fashion world.
In conclusion, the environmental impact of the fashion industry is a multifaceted issue that requires collective action from manufacturers, governments, and consumers alike. By fostering awareness and advocating for policy changes, we can hope to shift this industry towards more sustainable practices, enabling a future where we can reap the benefits of fashion without sacrificing our planet.