It is estimated that the fashion industry accounts for 10 percent of carbon emissions and 20 percent of wastewater generation every year. Almost half the non-biodegradable microfibers that end up in the oceans annually come from clothes. This is basically the equivalent of throwing 50 billion plastic bottles into the oceans. Given these numbers, it is necessary that we do our part to minimize the damage we cause to the environment. Here are four ways you can make fashion sustainable.
1. Choose sustainable fibers
Whenever you buy an outfit, ensure that it is made from sustainable fibers. Non-biodegradable materials like polyester and nylon are treated with several toxic chemicals like viscose. When these clothes end up in a landfill, the chemicals eventually leak into the soil and pollute underground water.
“Natural fibers such as cotton and bamboo have a lower environmental impact than synthetic fibers such as spandex and polyester… Select inks and dyes that are non-toxic, natural or vegetable-based,” according to Business Victoria. Clothes made of organic hemp are better for the environment than even cotton since growing hemp requires the use of 50 percent less water than cotton. Plus, farmers do not use pesticides when growing hemp.
2. Second-hand clothes
If you are not too obsessed with owning clothing that is newly manufactured, consider buying a portion of your clothes second-hand. If people avoid going to the second-hand store, those clothes may end up in a landfill and cause environmental problems later on. This year, the second-hand clothing market is expected to be worth US$32 billion. By 2023, this will likely balloon into a US$51 billion market. Check out local charity stores for second-hand clothes as you will also be doing the community a service by contributing to the welfare of the downtrodden.
3. Delivery and packaging
Packing clothes and transporting them to stores and customers generates lots of waste and pollution. In the past, companies all packed their clothes in plastic, but today many have begun using biodegradable materials. For instance, Mara Hoffman ships all their swimwear in compostable polybags. The company’s hang tags are largely made of soy-based inks and recycled paper.
When it comes to deliveries, “the larger the offerings and the wider the types of materials, the larger the supply chain [of the company]. Smaller offers mean more control. Solid brands don’t need to offer a huge array of garments, just a few simple things made really well will do,” according to Sustainable Jungle. The waste generated by such limited supply chains tends to be small. As such, you can look to buy locally produced clothes from companies that focus on selling in regional markets.
4. Chemical risk
Almost half of all clothes in the world have cotton as a component. Growing cotton is believed to consume almost 25 percent of the world’s insecticides. To get the cotton to make one t-shirt, farmers dump around two-tenths of a pound of fertilizers and pesticides onto their land. The chemicals used in the dyeing and processing stages include heavy metals like lead, nickel, and chromium. Some of the processes even use a family of chemicals known as phthalates, some of which are known to cause cancer.
As a buyer, you should always check the labels to see what materials and chemicals are used in the clothing. Avoid buying items that use synthetic polyesters and chemicals. If a significant proportion of people do this, it will definitely make the production of cotton and other fabric materials sustainable.
Don’t simply go after fast fashion and throw away clothes after a short period of usage. It’s just not sustainable.