In today’s world, wearing a garment more than twice or thrice has become unthinkable. This is the result of fast fashion which is despised by environmentalists and nature lovers. While fast fashion delivers mass-produced, cheap clothes which make people feel no less than a celebrity, the environmental impact of fast fashion is catastrophic.
Fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M, and many others bring out new collections every year prompting global buyers to purchase clothes they do not need. Fast fashion is a booming industry as buyers are compelled to believe that they need to stay trendy and up-to-date with changing fashion styles. While it is economically beneficial for the makers, it has created serious environmental problems.
The fashion industry is a major polluter in the world. This can be assessed by the UN Environment Programme report. It stated that the fashion industry accounts for 8-10% of global carbon emissions which is more than the pollution caused by international flights and maritime shipping.
Water pollution and wasteful consumption by the fast fashion industry-
Since fast fashion is about unlimited production of cheap, easily disposable, poor quality cloth, environmental concerns are least important for the makers. During the production process, the wastewater containing hazardous chemicals and toxins is carelessly dumped into nearby rivers and seas causing water contamination. In the long run, this could cause cancers and even mercury poisoning.
Factories and industries that produce cotton also release wastewater contaminated with fertilizers into nearby water bodies. The water wastage in the production process is huge- 10,000 litres of water is needed to produce one kilogram of cotton and 3,000 litres of water is utilized to make one cotton shirt. Water contamination affects marine life and alters global sea temperatures which would ultimately affect climate and rainfall.
The fashion industry uses enormous amounts of water for dyeing and finishing purposes. For instance, unchecked cotton production has led to the desertification of the Aral Sea.
Stephen Leahy from the Guardian said, “85 % of the daily water needs of the entire population of India would be covered by the water used to grow cotton in the country. 100 million people in India do not have access to clean drinking water.”
Every problem has a solution if we keenly look for it. As aware citizens of our planet, we can do our part by buying clothes from the countries having stricter environmental regulations, buying from eco-friendly cloth brands, and choosing natural, organic, and recycled fibres, and those fibres which consume less water such as linen.
Microfiber pollution of the fashion industry
Every time cloth made of synthetic fibres like nylon, polyester, etc is washed, it releases around 700,000 microfibres into the water which ultimately reaches the oceans. Researchers have found that microfibres are ingested by marine life and thus they enter the food chain. Wearing garments made of synthetic fibres releases plastic microfibres into the atmosphere and an individual could release 900 million polyester microfibres annually. We can avoid this microfiber pollution by choosing natural and semi-synthetic fibre.
Fast Fashion- Generator of huge textile waste
As production costs are reduced, fast fashion has brought into vogue the concept of disposable clothing which generates heaps of textile waste. This waste lies in the landfills causing soil pollution or is incinerated leading to air pollution. Only 15% of it is recycled or donated.
Most of the clothes are made of non-biodegradable material and can take around two centuries to decompose. This is a serious problem that can be solved by using natural fibres, buying fewer clothes of better quality, and trying to recycle clothes as much as possible.
Pollution caused by Chemicals
The fashion industry lures people with beautifully dyed and coloured fabrics which are loved by all. However, the detrimental environmental impact of the dying process is not pondered upon, either by the stakeholders or the consumers.
The main component of clothes is chemicals, used at almost every production stage. They are essential during fibre production, bleaching, and wet processing of the cloth.
The toxic chemicals cause various diseases and even death among farmers and also freshwater and ocean water pollution. About 23 % of chemicals produced globally are used by the textile sector. Approximately 20,000 people die annually from cancer and miscarriages occurring due to chemicals sprayed on the cotton crop.
As responsible consumers, we can do our share by choosing sustainable cloth brands and abstaining from the use of synthetic cloth.
Fast Fashion- A major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions
The fashion industry contributes to 10% of global carbon emissions. A lot of energy in the form of electricity and other resources is wasted in the production of a cloth whose shelf-life is not even 1 year.
It also results in the depletion of fossil fuels, wastage of diesel, petrol, etc in the transportation of innumerable garments. This causes air pollution and carbon emissions along with depletion of the earth’s non-renewable resources which are formed over millions of years.
Also, the synthetic fibres used in clothes are produced from fossil fuels making the production process energy-intensive. Most of the fast fashion brands produce their clothes in developing countries like China, Bangladesh, India – countries that use their coal reserves to generate electricity.
Also, James Conca from FORBES said, ” Cheap synthetic fibres also emit gases like N2O, which is 300 times more damaging than CO2.”
This impending crisis can be mitigated only when people are aware and willing to protect the environment by not giving in to the fast-fashion industry.
Soil degradation and pollution- Long term environmental impact of fast fashion
The fashion industry has led to soil degradation in numerous ways. Excessive grazing by cashmere goats and sheep which are reared for their wool has led to soil erosion. The soil also absorbs many chemicals which are used in growing cash crops such as cotton.
For instance, 90% of Mongolia is faced with the threat of desertification due to the breeding of cashmere goats whereas 30% of Patagonia has been affected by desertification due to excessive sheep grazing and shrinkage of land for producing food crops.
If these unsustainable practices are continued then soil degradation could cause a 30% decrease in food production in the coming years. This would lead to global food security and also increase global warming. Hence, soil degradation is a serious environmental issue that needs to be taken care of.
Deforestation caused by the fashion industry
Every year, around 70 million trees are cut to make wood-based fibres such as rayon, viscose, and modal. These fabrics are not eco-friendly and their production results in deforestation, wherein natural forests are replaced by huge plantations to satisfy the greed of the fashion bearers. It has been found that 30% of rayon and viscose clothing comes from endangered and ancient forests.
It has a detrimental impact on our ecosystem as forests regulate rainfall and climate and many indigenous communities also depend on them for their needs. Preserving the natural forests is the need of the hour and we can do our bit by opting for Lyocell/Tencel instead of rayon, modal, or viscose fabrics.
A report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has suggested that it is crucial that the fashion industry moves towards a circular model of textile production that reuses material, leading to the production of good quality eco-friendly clothing.
Fast Fashion’s Societal Impact
Fast fashion is not only harmful to the planet but has a negative impact on society. It fuels capitalist needs while the poor workers are pushed towards poverty, disease, and harassment. In most countries, the workers do not have any rights. They are paid less and are forced to work for longer hours. The European Parliament has used the term ‘slave labour’ to describe the poor working conditions of garment workers employed in Asian countries.
The Rana Plaza Collapse in 2013, which killed 1134 garment workers in Dhaka has brought to the fore the dangerous working conditions of garment workers. It revealed the true face of the fashion industry to the world.
The workers have to adjust in dingy places with no ventilation and have to inhale toxic fumes, fibre dust. Their lives are not valued as many die in accidents, fires, and diseases, and their families are not even compensated.
The fashion industry has already done much harm to the environment. We cannot expect much from the corporates or the Governments unless we are willing to become environmentally conscious buyers.
We should become mindful of our purchasing habits and uphold environmental values. Instead of going crazy over trends, the global youth should uphold sustainable goals and think about the future generation.
Mahatma Gandhi rightly said, ‘There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it brings hunger and unhappiness.’ Thus, there will be no stopping for the fashion industry if the consumers don’t push for change. Hence, to save our planet and our future, fast fashion should not be encouraged. We should take proactive measures to encourage ‘green fashion’ and support sustainable brands.