1- Fashion is the second-largest polluter in the world, next to the oil and gas industry.
The environmental issue not only takes place during the disposal of a garment but often the whole life cycle of a garment is problematic from seed to disposal. For example, it takes 2,700 liters of water – enough water for one person to consume in two and a half years – to make one cotton shirt. Organic cotton only equals to about 0.7 percent of global cotton production.
Ever noticed how polyester fabrics are stain-resistant? That’s because it takes a special kind of dye to successfully color polyester. These dyes, known as disperse dyes, are insoluble in water and, like polyester, are made up of a complex molecular structure that does not readily decompose.
Wastewater from textile factories containing leftover dye is difficult to treat and, as such, enters the environment where its toxicity causes serious problems to plant and animal life.
In addition to causing environmental problems, polyester dyes are also toxic to humans. Dye workers worldwide report higher incidences of cancers and lung disease than the general population.
Polyester manufacturing is water-thirsty; it is created through an energy-intensive heating process, requiring large quantities of water for cooling. If not managed properly this can result in groundwater levels dropping and reduced access to clean drinking water, particularly in third world countries where polyester is often manufactured.
In the past few years, the sustainable fashion sphere has been introduced to recycled polyester and recycled plastics. Recycled polyester is usually made from recycled plastic bottles and marine plastics. Buying recycled polyester means you’re minimizing waste and cutting out the fossil fuel industry but unfortunately with every wash, these garments have alarming consequences by shedding thousands of microfibers in each wash.
As we have mentioned in other articles, microfibers are a huge environmental issue. When we analyze the accumulated plastic waste on our planet, we find out that out of the 5.5 trillion particles of plastic waste on our planet, 95% were smaller than a grain of rice. Every time you wash the repurposed polyester/oil-based clothes, shoes and other wearables, they shed tiny plastic bits that wash off of the items in the washing machine.
All synthetic fibers come off in the wash and pass through to sewage treatment plants, which often don’t have filters fine enough to catch them. Treated wastewater is then often dumped into rivers or the sea, carrying a great level of microfibers.
Patagonia funded a study at the University of California at Santa Barbara on micro fibers and other environmental issues.
The study showed on average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash.
Synthetic microfibers are particularly dangerous because they have the potential to poison the food chain. These tiny microfibers are consumed by fish and other wildlife. These plastic fibers have the potential to bioaccumulate, concentrating toxins in the bodies of larger animals, higher up the food chain.
2- The industry has been socially irresponsible both on the back end (Poor labor practices and churning out cheaply made products) and the front-end (Generations of fashion’s negative impact on women by encouraging unattainable perfection).
3- In the past few years, more and more people around the world have learned about the ugly truth behind the fashion industry.
With the advancement of technology, the manufacturing world and third world countries who have been harmed the most by the industry, have started to share more about the harsh circumstances, allowing for transparency into their social and natural environment.
4- As these negative practices were exposed, fashion brands realized that the world was watching. The negative impacts of the industry became transparent, and many fashion brands feared a loss of reputation and profits as trends started changing.
5- As consumers start demanding sustainable products, fast fashion retailers scrambled to meet the demand by attempting to carry sustainable products. Unfortunately, since the whole supply chain is dependent on churning out cheaply made products, they fail to meet the new trend. Consequently, they come up with small strategies like inserting recycle bins in their stores aiming at collecting customer's old clothes.
While you may donate your old clothing to charity, or a clothing recycle bin, the truth is, even then according to the EPA, a whopping 84 percent of our clothing ends up in landfills and incinerators.
To put it in numbers, the U.S. currently exports a billion pounds of worn clothing per year. Without the intervention of textile recyclers, our enormous surplus of charitable donations would be rendered useless and sent to landfills.
Many documentaries have captured locals in third world countries sharing how that they don't want our unwanted clothes.
This excessive amount of clothing ends up in the landfill or makes mountains of trash in the developing countries and disrupts local economies.
Dr. Andrew Brooks, the author of Clothing Poverty states that in Sub-Saharan Africa, the constant flood of used clothing is so pervasive that it's even part of the language. In his book, he translates the colloquial Ghanaian phrase "obroni wawu" to "clothes of the dead white man."
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, every year, Americans throw away 12.7 million tons or 68 pounds of textiles per person.
The best we can do here in America is to educate each other about the problem of fashion waste and simply stop buying and when it's time for a new shirt the best way is to buy items that are capable of closing the loop in a biological or a technical cycle of recovery.
Giving shirts to charity or selling them for reuse on eCommerce websites does not close the loop on a product; it simply extends the overall lifetime of a garment.
Outside of hundreds of informative articles that environmental scientists have published around climate change and upcoming environmental concerns, there have been a few documentaries that clearly articulate the problem. We have put our list of top must-watch documentaries together, sharing the problem of fashion waste through different lenses.
The True Cost
If you only have time to watch one documentary about fast fashion, this is the one to start with. The True Cost, is a documentary about the impact of fashion on our planet and the people. It exposes the very dark side of the fashion industry and states the problem clearly.
The documentary RiverBlue helps us understand how the fashion industry is killing one of the most important sources of water and marine life – our rivers. Mark Angelo travels the globe to dive deep into one of the world’s most polluting industry, fashion. What we learn is shocking. He showcases the Noyyal River in India, which has become a dumping ground for toxic dyes which contain hazardous materials that don’t break down and impact the health of the river and its ecosystem as well as human health.
Before the Flood
Leonardo DiCaprio explores the topic of climate change and discovers what must be done today to prevent the catastrophic disruption of life on our planet.DiCaprio travels to five continents and the Arctic speaking to scientists, world leaders, activists and local residents to gain a deeper understanding of this complex issue and investigate concrete solutions to the most pressing environmental challenge of our time. The documentary presents a riveting account of the dramatic changes now occurring around the world due to climate change, as well as the actions we as individuals and as a society can take to prevent catastrophic disruption of life on our planet.