The ecological footprint of the fashion industry  

31 July 2020

At the present time, the textile and fashion industry are experiencing a social and environmental crisis and the charming and sophisticated side of fashion doesn’t match with its consequences for the environment.
The textile industry is, currently, the second most polluting industry and only the oil industry surpasses it. Fast fashion, based on a capitalist concept, is a way of production and consumption in which products are manufactured, consumed and disposed of in a very short time. The result is a vicious and polluting cycle and the Planet has already shown signs of not being able to handle it.
Therefore, there is an urgent need for structural changes in the way we produce and consume fashion products.
The term “fast fashion” emerged in the 90s but originated two decades earlier, in 1970. Fast fashion was triggered by the oil crisis of that same decade and, to overcome the crisis and manage to drain production, companies started to produce greater quantities in less time, using lower quality materials. They looked at major brands and trends and created similar models that were cheaper and on a larger scale.
Let's look at the numbers, shall we?
In 2015, the fashion industry spent 118 billion cubic meters of water, 1715 million tons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere and 92 million tons of clothes were wasted. As an example, a cotton t-shirt needs 2700 liters of water to be made, which corresponds to the average water consumption by a person for 2 ½ years.
Between 1996 and 2012, the amount of clothing purchased per person in the European Union (EU) increased by 40%. As of the 2020s, polyester, a non-biodegradable raw material made from fossil fuels, became the favorite material of a lot of brands.
But the astronomical and frightening numbers don't stop there. In 2015, the production of polyester in the textile industry released 706 billion kg of greenhouse gases, which is equivalent to 185 coal plants. And worse, while a polyether t-shirt is responsible for 4.5 kg of CO2, the same cotton t-shirt emits 2.1 kg of CO2. Once discarded, the same t-shirt continues to pollute, since it takes about 200 years to completely decompose.
However, cotton also has its consequences for the environment. Its production occupies about 3% of the arable land in the world, 200 thousand tons of pesticides and 8 million tons of fertilizers are used per year, which means that producing 1 kg of cotton is equivalent to using 0, 35 to 1.5 kg of chemicals.
What can we do?
Changes in the fashion industry must be structural. As consumers, we have the right to make choices that decrease these exorbitant values ​​and the duty to pressure and demand changes from large companies.
Choose slow fashion brands or those with environmental concerns. Generally, slow fashion brands choose environmentally friendly raw materials, produced in a sustainable context. They produce fewer garments; the materials and production processes are not aggressive to the environment and workers receive fair wages.
For this reason, slow fashion brands have slightly higher prices than cheaper brands. The reason? It's the right price. For the environment, for the company, for workers and for consumers.
"Do I really need this?" One of the causes of the polluting character of fashion is the excessive amount of clothing purchased by consumers, which forces brands to always have something new to sell.
Next time you go shopping, ask yourself this question - Do you really need another t-shirt, another pair of pants or another dress? Or are you just buying because it's cheap? If you change your consumption habits, in addition to a cleaner planet, you will feel a great impact in your wallet.
Second-hand stores. You will be surprised by the clothes you can buy in second-hand stores. Most of these second-hand stores only accept clothes that are still in good condition.
In addition to quality, these stores have low prices and we guarantee that you can find many interesting pieces hidden on the shelves. Nowadays, second-mother stores have migrated to digital and you can find e-commerces with second-hand clothes online.
Donate. And when the clothes don’t fit you anymore? What to do? First rule: don't throw it in the trash! When you throw clothes in the garbage, it will end up in the landfill or they will be incinerated, releasing gases that enhance the greenhouse effect.
Look around you: is there anyone that could benefit from your clothes? Surely you know someone who would use them: a friend, a younger sister, a cousin, acquaintances of acquaintances? No one? No problem! Certainly, in your community there are NGO’s or charities that are willing to accept your clothes and distribute them to those in need.
Another option is to leave your clothes in used clothing containers. Textile recovery companies and local NGO’s sort clothes and divide them according to their conditions: they can be donated, diverted for recycling, exported or, if they are in fact beyond repair, thrown away.
Another option is to give your clothes another life, that is, transform them into a new piece. For example, are you too tall for you pants? Turn them into shorts.
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