Fashion Updates

The Hidden Cost of Fashion: Unveiling the Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion

Published: June 20, 2024
Author: Fashion Value Chain

Fast fashion, a movement that has completely transformed the apparel business, is distinguished by quick turnaround times, low costs, and constantly evolving styles. It provides customers with priced and stylish clothing options. There is rising concern about how rapid fashion affects the environment. Because the industry relied on mass production, synthetic materials, and inexpensive labor, there have been serious environmental effects, such as water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and textile waste. To promote sustainable practices and a more environmentally conscious approach to fashion consumption, it is imperative to understand the environmental repercussions of rapid fashion. 

When we hear the term “fast fashion,” we think solely of how fashionable and comfortable it is to wear and cheap to buy, never of the repercussions and toll it is taking on the environment and the people who work to make that clothing. Fast fashion appeared in the 1970s, and production continued in other nations, particularly in Asia, where wages were lower and profits were particularly high. It gradually increased, particularly around 1990, as trends changed, and retailers had to keep up with the trends to stay in business. 

The creation of fast-fashion clothing has an environmental impact both during and after the manufacturing process. This industry emits around 10% more carbon than planes. It does not stop with carbon emissions; the use of water is also heavily involved, and harmful polluted water contaminated with dyes and other chemicals is released into major river sources, endangering the health of many marine animals and people who live nearby who may use the water source. 

This firm uses one-tenth of the water that many other companies do. If we examine more closely, it takes around 10,000 liters of water to manufacture one kg of cotton and approximately 3,000 liters of water to produce one cotton t-shirt, whereas for one pair of jeans, the requirement for water is about 700 gallons of water which proves the fact that fashion industry is one of the leading industries when it comes to water consumption. On the other hand, textile dyeing is the world’s second-largest polluter of water.  When the dyeing process is repeated after production, water is consumed, and the hazardous dye water contaminated with chemicals is dumped into natural water resources, which is extremely detrimental. Fast fashion firms typically move to nations with lax environmental standards, resulting in chemicals and pollutants becoming so poisonous in the water or at dumping sites that they cannot be rehabilitated to become useable ever again. When we talk about water usage in the supply chain, from design to purchase, which is known as ‘lead time’, and use an example, Zara, one of the leading producers of fast fashion clothes, was able to produce and deliver a new garment every two weeks, while the old ones went to landfills because they were no longer useful and out of style. 

More than 85% of the worn clothes discarded each year have nowhere to go and end up in landfills. Washing clothes also releases approximately 50,000 tons of microplastic fibers into the ocean, which is equivalent to 50 billion plastic bottles. The most common offenders are synthetic microfibers, which account for 35% of all synthetic fibers. Some of the fibers emitted are polyester or low-quality fibers, which are far more toxic than cotton fibers, and their manufacture might hurt the workers’ health.

According to some studies, America alone produces approximately 82 pounds of textile trash each year, therefore if we consider the entire world, waste production is quite harmful due to the poisonous compounds used in the production process, as well as when it ends up in oceans and landfills.

Chemical use is also one of the detrimental effects of fast fashion because of the heavy use of the pesticide while growing the cotton which causes health problems to the farmers. Environmental Justice Foundation, said, “In India, home to over one-third of the world’s cotton farmers, cotton accounts for 54% of all pesticides used annually, despite occupying only 5% of cropland.” During a single 5-month study period, 97 cotton producers experienced 323 distinct cases of illness. 39% were related to mild poisoning, 38% with moderate poisoning, and 6% with severe poisoning.

If we look at textile waste, then the Council for Textile Recycling reports that a consumer of fast fashion disposes of about 70 pounds of textiles per year and the dumping in landfill rose from 1.7 million tons in 1960 to 11.5 million tons in 2017 which can have a very bad effect on soil and rainforest destruction can also happen to create more landfills in many cases. 

Not only do landfills exist, but 150 million trees are cut down each year to produce cloth. Some are sourced from sustainably managed forests, while others, such as viscose, are derived from old and endangered trees. Clothing production is also speeding up the process of global warming. The fashion industry is responsible for almost 10 percent of the global carbon emissions. 

So, the effects of the fast fashion industry are too much and can destroy the planet at some point. The most serious issues with fast-fashion clothing manufacture and pre-production are water consumption, water pollution, microfiber contamination, chemical use, textile waste, rainforest destruction, soil degradation, and greenhouse gas emissions. These are only a few of the many issues that will hurt the environment and human health.

The magnitude of fast fashion’s human and environmental impact can be overwhelming, but there are ways we can all contribute. 

Some of them include keeping an eco-friendly wardrobe and buying as many sustainable goods as possible to lessen global environmental impact. Make certain that the brands we buy from use environmentally friendly production practices, an ethical supply chain, and safe and fair working conditions for people who are well compensated. 

To prevent pollution, garments can be purchased from countries with better environmental policies that benefit the world. Wearing natural fiber clothing also helps to reduce the amount of chemicals used in manufacture. To ensure minimal water use, choosing clothes made from fibers such as linen that consume little water can be helpful. 

Consumers can have an enormous impact on mitigating the negative consequences of fast fashion by embracing “slow fashion.” This strategy is acquiring fewer but higher-quality clothing items, despite the extra expense, because they tend to last longer. Instead of dumping clothing that is no longer needed, people might donate it. This approach helps to prevent textiles from ending up in landfills. While some donated clothes do end up in landfills, many things that are not sold in donation stores are transferred to textile recycling facilities. They go through processing to be utilized as furniture filler or building insulation. However, fast fashion’s enormous production and substandard quality have caused issues for donation centers and secondhand goods. Retailers have begun attempts to mitigate the harmful effects of rapid fashion.

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