We hear so much about the devastating impact of the fashion industry on ecology.
I admit that I didn’t really know what that meant.
I made some research and here is a 3-minute explanation of what is harmful and what we can do to limit our impact on the environment. The information comes from a report prepared by the European Parliament (https://epthinktank.eu/) so I assume it is objective.
Cotton – around 50% of all fibres used in fashion industry – requires huge quantities of land, water, fertilisers and pesticides. A solution is a bio cotton which uses drastically less water and pollutes less.
Silk has detrimental effect regarding depletion of natural resources and global warming.
Wool produces greenhouse gas emissions.
Other natural fibres, such as hemp, flax, linen and nettle, require less water, fertilisers and pesticides.
Polyester, which is made of fossil fuels and is non-biodegradable, accounts for about 16 % of fibres used in clothes. Its main advantages are that, unlike cotton, it has a lower water footprint, has to be washed at lower temperatures, dries quickly and hardly needs ironing. It can be also recycled into new fibres. Recycled polyester is made mainly from plastic bottles.
However, one load of laundry of polyester clothes (also nylon and acrylic) can discharge great amount of microplastic fibres. They release toxins into the environment and can end up in human food chain. Estimates show, that every year approximately half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres from washing clothes end up in the ocean.
Production of clothes
Starting from spinning raw materials into yarns, weaving them into fabrics and applying finishing techniques such as dyeing or giving the fabrics strength and shine, are energy-intensive processes in which large amounts of water and chemicals are used.
More than 1 900 chemicals are used in the production of clothing, of which 165 classifies as hazardous to health or the environment. Dyeing can require up to 150 litres of water per kilogram of fabric and, in developing countries, the wastewater is often discharged unfiltered into waterways.
The production of garments themselves uses a significant amount of energy for sewing, gluing, welding and seam taping equipment. The cut-offs that are left over after the patterns for the clothes have been cut out are also responsible for about 20 % of the industry’s fabric waste.
Most textiles and clothes are imported, which means long delivery routes. However, this stage accounts for only 2 % of the climate-change impacts of the fashion industry, as most large players have optimized the flow of goods. However, this phase is also characterized by waste generated through packaging, tags, hangers and bags. On top of it there is a large proportion of products that never reach consumers as the unsold leftovers are thrown away.
What can we do
Consumers have the largest environmental footprint. Mainly due to water, energy and chemicals they used in washing, tumble drying and ironing. In addition all microplastics that shed into water.
What can YOU do:
- reduce washing temperature
- wash at full load
- avoid tumble-drying
- donate clothes that are no longer used. At the end of life, most clothes are still thrown away and burned in incinerators. They end up in landfill where they release methane. Unfortunately only less than one percent of all materials that are used in clothing is recycled back into clothing. There is a lack of necessary technologies.
- buy less, but choose clothes in which you will feel good and wear them longer
- when shopping, pay attention to where the clothes come from and what they are made of.