World Environment Day 2020: What The Fashion Industry Has Done To The Environment!

Devika Tripathi

The wardrobe is never enough to satiate our lust for clothes. The ruling trends might favour minimalism - less is more - but the mindset today is definitely more is more. You must have observed that people with a truckload of clothes in their wardrobe complaining they can't figure out what to wear. Then, depending on the size of their wallet, they go to the local markets or brand outlets and buy half-a-dozen clothes. If there's a discount going on at the store or online, half-a-dozen becomes a dozen. On World Environment Day, let's take a look at the impact of the fashion industry on the environment.

When it comes to buying clothes, the consumer psyche is basically governed by one sentence, "What if somebody else buys it and I don't find it again?" This is the thought the brands capitalise on and have planted in our head; it's a fatal attraction that fast fashion brands of the world have created. We buy and buy but we are never satisfied enough. It's like, okay, we have had an Instagram moment in this attire, now we need in another outfit.

Also, these fashion influencers make it so mandatory to buy clothes that will make us look fabulous. It's what they do but it has become so indirectly persuasive. The marketing has become so sophisticated and nuanced that we don't even realise our addiction to buying clothes and half of them we dump it too. We need a new wedding outfit for every wedding we attend. Our mothers wore the same attire twice because they weren't made to feel by any advertisement that repeating is boring.

Technology has become advanced too - the production of clothes in bulk is not a very time-consuming process. But this whole phenomenon, which starts from ideating a collection to production to final customers, has polluted the fashion industry. It is the second most polluting industry in the world and has cost a lot of wastage, degradation, and loss of life among other devastating things. Therefore, it becomes important to talk about what the fashion industry has done to the environment.

On World Environment Day 2020, when we are witnessing the direct effects of coronavirus pandemic affecting everyone at large, let's talk about fashion pandemic that we don't even realise we are witnessing.

According to the documentary, True Cost, which is one of the best fashion and environment documentaries of 2015, approx. 80 billion of clothing is consumed. And according to the World Economic Forum, 85 per cent of textiles are dumped each year. That's the level of wastage we are talking about! We will discuss the impact of wastage a little later but let's see what impact our increasing demand for clothes makes. Consumer is king and with so many kings and queens, the demand is more, the production subsequently increases resulting in much more carbon emissions (toxic to environment).

As per a report by the World Economic Forum, with increasing demand, brands like Zara launch 24 collections per year and H&M introduces 12-16 collections a year, and this, we are talking about just two retail giants in the never-ending world of fashion! When the production increases more clothes are produced, which is where things get bad.

Cotton - The Seed Of Trouble

Cotton, as you must know, is the most exploited fabric. Our dependence on cotton is a lot and most of the clothes come from cotton fabric. According to a report by the World Resources Institute, cotton accounts for 33 percent of all fibres used in making clothes. So, it is in a way, the most-used fabric. And being the most-used fabric, cotton requires a lot of water.

Fact: One cotton T-shirt would take 2,700 litres of water to create. On an average, a person would take more than two years to drink 2,700 litres of water! A pair of jeans takes 7,000 litres of water to make. A report said that because of cotton demanding so much water, Aral Sea - a lake between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan - has nearly disappeared. Uzbekistan is one of the largest producers of cotton. Water depletion is the first and foremost environmental impact caused by fashion.

Cotton not only requires water but also a lot of insecticides and pesticides. Cotton uses 6 percent of the world's pesticides and 16 percent of insecticides. This obviously affects the soil drastically but the 2,700 litres of water-invested cotton T-shirt you wear also contains chemicals. If the T-shirt is printed then you have all the more reason to worry about, as the prints are made from harmful chemicals.

Organic cotton farming has emerged and it is considered effective but it accounts for only 1 percent of the cottin production in the world. Further, organic cotton farming has a high price issue and also the issue of less awareness, so not many are using organic cotton.

Toxic Dyes - The Catastrophe Of Colours

While cotton is a seed of trouble also, synthetic dyes are a big issue, too. We want vibrant clothes - colours beyond our imagination and so synthetic dyes are used. According to the article in Biotechnology Research & Innovation, these textile dyes are highly soluble in water and their ability to impart colour is linked to the presence of chromophoric groups in its molecular structure. In other words, dyes are a result of highly hazardous chemicals, acids, alkali, etc.

Synthetic dyeing is a result of an interaction between water and dyeing compounds. After the process is complete and the fabric is taken out for drying, a large amount of coloured water remains. The practice and in particular India is that this leftover toxic water is either dumped in a water body like a river or on the land. When coloured dyes are dumped in the water, it reduces the level of photosynthesis and oxygen level, which affects the aquatic life and not to mention the food chain. And on land, these dyes block the pores of the soil, which damages soil fertility and productivity. Apart from that, this contaminated dye water emits toxic fumes, which affects the environment around and can cause chronic illness.

The organic dyes are a solution. Procured from vegetables and other natural substances, these dyes are also used but by very small production houses. The other limitation of organic dyes is they produce limited hues.

Laundry - The Rise Of Microplastic Pollution

However, synthetic dyeing is not the only problem, washing clothes are too. So, when you wash synthetic, polyester, and nylon clothes, which are a form of plastic, a lot of plastic fibres are released. According to Vox, a single load of laundry could release hundreds and thousands of fibres from our clothes into the water supply. And when these plastic fibres reach the oceans they add to what the term is microplastic pollution and you know how harmful plastic is to aquatic life, and eventually causes air pollution.

Wastage - The Sad Side Of The Fashion Industry

Coming to the wastage of clothes, consumers waste clothes by dumping. We mentioned earlier that 85 percent of clothes are wasted. We throw clothes in the garbage casually and these clothes eventually go to landfills. These clothes can remain in the landfills for approximately 100 years! But when they decompose, these clothes emit the greenhouse gas methane, which contributes to a significant rise in air pollution.

If not landfills, the clothes are incinerated or burnt and major manufacturing houses have done it. Tons and tons of clothes are burnt, which results in the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Fashion is definitely affecting the environment and you have to look beyond the glamorous part of fashion. What you as a consumer can do is buy less, buy smart (buy good fabric clothes), don't waste but recycle, and spread the message so that more people can gain awareness.

On this World Environment Day, take a pledge to save the environment by being a smart consumer of fashion.

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