Cheap clothing is convenient, and changing out our wardrobes every season might make us feel more fashionable, but fast fashion pollution is a bigger problem than we imagined.
The United Nations named the fashion industry the second most polluting industry in the world. It produces 8% of all carbon emissions, 20% of all global wastewater, and uses about 93 billion cubic meters of water annually. The fashion industry is responsible for more carbon emissions than international flights and global shipping combined.
Fast fashion pollution
According to a study published in the journal Water (cited below), the fast fashion industry is a major contributor to water pollution since these brands produce large quantities of clothing at a rapid pace. This leads to excessive water usage as well as the release of harmful chemicals into our waterways.
The study found that fast fashion brands use up to 2,700 liters of water to produce a single cotton t-shirt. This excessive water usage can lead to the depletion of water resources in areas where water is already scarce.
The industry also contributes to water pollution through the use of hazardous chemicals in the manufacturing process. Many brands use synthetic dyes and chemicals that can be harmful to the environment and human health.
The disposal of fast fashion clothing also contributes to water pollution. Many fast fashion items are made from synthetic materials that do not biodegrade, leading to them ending up in landfills or incinerators. The disposal of these items can release harmful chemicals into the air and leach into nearby waterways.
How to make it stop
Well, money talks. You can always invest in clothing that lasts or repair the clothing you have.
To address the water pollution associated with fast fashion, companies do try to implement more sustainable manufacturing practices. But it’s unclear to what extent this really works if they’re still selling so many garments.
Some fast fashion brands are incorporating recycled materials into their products, reducing the amount of virgin materials needed and the associated water usage. Others are implementing closed-loop systems, which recycle water and chemicals used in the production process.
But in the end, consumers may play the biggest role in reducing the water pollution associated with fast fashion. Choosing to buy clothing made from sustainable materials and produced using sustainable manufacturing practices is an option. But a better one is reducing clothing waste by donating or recycling clothing to keep textiles out of landfills and reduce the pollution associated with textile disposal.