As societies have become prosperous, human consumption has greatly increased as well. This is pretty evident when looking at clothing. People today purchase numerous outfits every year to keep up with changing fashion styles. This trend of fast fashion is causing so many problems to our environment and human values that some people are ditching it, choosing sustainable clothing solutions instead.
The fast fashion problem
“The clothing industry is responsible for about 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and consumes more energy than aviation and shipping combined… Every second, one trash truck’s worth of textiles is either burned or sent to a landfill,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Almost 40 percent of all clothes have some amount of cotton in them. To produce just a single pound of cotton, about 2,400 gallons of water is required. Given that over 80 billion pieces of clothing are manufactured every year, imagine the amount of water used to produce fast fashion and the pollution it generates! What’s worse is that almost 50 percent of fast fashion clothes are estimated to be disposed of by the buyer in less than a year.
Growing cotton is not good for the environment at all. It accounts for almost 10 percent of the world’s pesticide use and 25 percent of insecticide usage. An average t-shirt made of cotton is calculated to contain about 17 teaspoons of fertilizers and chemical pesticides. When a large number of these clothes are thrown out, burned, or sent to landfills, you end up polluting the air, soil, and water. When you wash clothes made of synthetic fibers like nylon or polyester, bits of microplastics end up in the pipes, drains, and eventually rivers, thereby polluting the marine ecosystem. Fish in the seas end up consuming these microplastics. And when we catch these fish, cook, and eat them, the microplastics enter our bodies, harming our health.
Apart from environmental issues, there is the human rights aspect as well that goes against fast fashion. A big chunk of fast fashion clothing is manufactured in countries like Bangladesh that have a poor track history of worker’s rights. Most people employed in the textile industry in these regions are paid extremely low wages and made to work in less than ideal conditions. A 2016 report suggested that about 61 percent of Pakistani women engaged as cotton pickers suffered from medical problems like headaches, skin irritation, and so on.
The easiest way to ensure you have sustainable clothing is by using your existing wardrobe for a longer period. According to one estimate from the UK, extending the active life of 50 percent of clothing used in the country by just nine months will cut down water wastage by 10 percent, carbon emissions by 8 percent, and waste per metric ton of clothing by 4 percent.
Next, buy clothes that use materials that are the most eco-friendly, such as organic hemp. “It requires 50 percent+ less water than even organic cotton and no pesticides. It’s also incredibly useful, being excellent at temperature regulation, both in hot and cold climates, and has natural UV protective properties”, according to Sustainable Jungle. Other materials to consider include recycled cotton, organic linen, protein fibers, and organic bamboo. Check the label to see what clothing is made from before you buy it.
Companies are also paying attention to minimizing wastage and the carbon footprint of their products. The introduction of AI and other new technologies will definitely contribute to helping the clothing industry manage its pollution better. For instance, Re:newcell is a bioeconomic company from Sweden that has developed a method for reusing clothes in a closed loop. It collects garments that are too worn-out. The company decolors, shreds, and eventually turns the clothes into a slurry with all its contaminants separated. The resulting product is an organic, biodegradable material called cellulose that won’t harm the environment.