In light of the SS4C Global Climate Strike on Friday 20th September 2019, I started to have some discussions with friends about the impact of fashion on climate change because obviously fashion & the environment are two of my deep passions. I found through having these conversations that sometimes, when on the spot and trying to have an open conversation about this I loose my train of thought because i'm like "wahhh there are so many things I need to get out of my brain and tell you!".
So, I decided I would draft this blog so you too can understand the fashion industry's impact on climate change and then, you can have factual conversations with your friends also.
In this post I will touch on the following impacts of fashion on climate change. Note, this blog is a quick rundown, if you would like me to delve deeper into any of the specific areas please do get in touch - I don’t bite and I would be happy to hear your thoughts.
- Pesticides /Chemicals
- Water Pollution
- Water Usage
- Landfill / Biodegrading
- Textile Waste
- Synthetic Fibres
- Greenhouse Gases
The images and video content used in this blog were taken by myself at the Melbourne Global Climate Strike on Friday 20th September 2019.
When we wear clothes, we are choosing what type of chemicals we want to be touching our skin, our largest organ. We really need to start caring as much about the chemicals touching body as much as those chemicals that are going into our body as both can affect our health and wellbeing.
Chemicals are used during the manufacturing of garments, such as fiber production, dyeing, bleaching, printing, washing, finishing.
Cotton represents nearly half of the total fibre used to make clothing today. More than 90% of that cotton is now genetically modified, using vast amounts of water as well as chemicals. Cotton production is now responsible for 18% of worldwide pesticide use and 25% of total insecticide use.
The largely untested impacts of these chemicals on both the land and human health are beginning to be questioned by those working in the industry. As our skin is the largest organ, these chemicals are passed into the bloodstream of the people wearing these clothes.
You can learn more about this by watching The True Cost
“The wars of the future will not be fought about oil, the wars of the future is going to be fought about water” Kumi Nadoo - Greenpeace
It is known that in many countries in which garments are produced, untreated toxic waste from local factories are dumped directly into the rivers which directly impacts developing communities and their access to clean potable water.
The fabric dyes used contain hazardous materials like mercury and lead, these types of chemicals do not break down and are extremely harmful for aquatic life and the health of millions of people living by those rivers banks. The contamination also reaches the sea and travels around the world in our waterways.
You can learn more about this by watching River Blue
Did you know: It takes 2,700L of water to make just ONE cotton t-shirt, thats as much as 3 years worth of drinking water. Crazy isn’t it. Just think how many t-shirts you own and then times that number 2,700 and think about how much water is in your wardrobe.
The textile industry is one of the most chemically intensive industries on earth, and the No. 1 polluter of clean water (after agriculture). Then, when you think that only 2.5% of the Earth’s water is freshwater and only 0.3% of that is accessible to humans. As water scarcity becomes ever more prevalent, the industry must re-evaluate how it impacts on our most precious resource.
Cotton farming is the single largest water consumption factor in the apparel supply chain. For a simple reason: the regions where most cotton is grown are dry – the southern US, India, Mali and the Aral Lake area.
Fact: 100 million people in India do not have access to drinking water. The water used to grow cotton in the country would cover 85% of the populations daily water needs.
“The water consumed to grow India's cotton exports in 2013 would be enough to supply 85% of the country's 1.24 billion people with 100 litres of water every day for a year. Meanwhile, more than 100 million people in India do not have access to safe water” Stephen Leahy Guardian
Microplastic waste includes a form of synthetic microfibers (less than 5mm in length) that detach from our synthetic clothes during washing. Synthetic fabrics include polyester, acrylic and nylon, which means most of us own clothing made from plastic. Microplastics may be small, but they’re causing big problems for our environment and our health.
Synthetic textiles are one of the main sources of microplastic pollution and account for 35% of all microplastics. With each wash, countless plastic fibers are making their way from washing machines into rivers and oceans. Once in the environment, they accumulate pollutants and are consumed by aquatic organisms, which leads to infections, diseases and starvation! Moreover these pollutants make their way up the food chain onto our plates. According to a study by the University of California at Santa Barbara, a city the size of Berlin releases a wash-related volume of microfibers equivalent to approx. 500,000 plastic bags - every single day.
How garment biodegrade in landfill
1 years worth of textile waste clogs up approximately 126 million cubic yards of landfill space. Decomposing clothing in landfill releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas and a significant contributor to global warming. It takes 15-20 years for a pair of leather shoes to decompose and an average cotton t-shirt will take 6-12 months to biodegrade.
Textile waste is a material that is deemed unusable for its original purpose. Textile waste can include fashion and textile industry waste which is created during clothing production, and consumer waste, created during consumer use and disposal.
Fact: Australians throw $500 Million worth of fashion and textiles in the trash each year, which amounts to the average Australia discarding of 30kg of clothing and textile each year.
Learn more about Textile Waste here.
To help you minimise your impact on the environment, The Independent have put together a list of the best and worst fabrics for the environment with the help of a number of industry experts.
The worst fabrics for the environment: Cotton, synthetics and animal-derived materials
Cotton: While cotton is a natural fibre that can biodegrade at the end of its life, it is also one of the most environmentally demanding crops. As mentioned above. You can also learn more about it here
Synthetics (Polyester, Nylon and Acrylic) Laura Balmond, project manager of Make Fashion Circular at environmental charity the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), states that synthetic fabrics are usually produced from oil and account for 63 per cent of the material input for textiles production.
The most common materials in this sector are polyester (55 per cent), followed by nylon (five per cent), and acrylic (two per cent).
While plastic-based fibres do not require agricultural land and use little water in production and processing, they do negatively impact the environment in other ways.
Not only are synthetics not biodegradable, they all rely on the petrochemical industries for their raw material, meaning this fashion industry staple is dependent on fossil fuel extraction.
Animal-derived materials (Wool, leather and fur)
Materials like leather are responsible for huge methane outputs. Methane is at least 20 times as strong a greenhouse gas as CO2 and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that livestock are responsible for about 14.5 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
As well as the carbon footprint associated with raising cattle and transporting the material, the impact on livestock and workers leather industry is huge.
Extinction Rebellion states that one billion animals are killed for leather every year while 85 per cent of the worlds leather is tanned with chromium, an extremely toxic substance that often leaves tannery workers with cancer and skin conditions.
By 2050 it is anticipated that the fashion industry will use up 25 per cent of the world’s carbon budget, making it one of the most polluting industries second only to oil.
Fashion industry's carbon impact bigger than airline industry's.
- The Fashion industry accounts for 8% of the world's carbon emissions, compared to aviations 2%.
- Textile Manufacturing emits 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases annually. That is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
A report by the Global Fashion Agenda in May found that fashion is actually slowing down when it comes to improving its environmental impact.
“What is needed are commitments – bold target setting – [from the] fashion industry; at the moment [we’re] not going fast enough,” Eva Kruse, president and CEO of the Global Fashion Agenda, tells Vogue. “Government regulations can help increase the pace; if there were a tax on carbon or on water, [that could] move big sections of the industry.”
Every year, Canopy estimates that millions of trees in endangered forests are cut, chipped and then treated with a chemical concoction to break them down into a pulp slurry. Indonesian and Chinese factories turn the chemical pulp into viscose filaments, which are then spun into fabrics that make their way into the fashion manufacturing process and eventually into stores and your wardrobe.
Greenwashing is conveying a false impression that a company or its products are more environmentally sound than they really are. Greenwashing is a play on the term "whitewashing," which means using misleading information to gloss over bad behaviour.
The reason I added this one here is because Greenwashing is not helping the current climate crisis.Providing misleading information to customers who then think they are doing the right thing (usually by purchasing a $5 top they believe to be ethically and sustainably made). This needs to stop.
- Water Pollution https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfPMeMGbrj4
- Water Usage https://goodonyou.eco/fashion-and-water-the-thirsty-industry/ & https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/water-scarcity-fashion-industry & https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/20/cost-cotton-water-challenged-india-world-water-day & http://www.oecotextiles.com/PDF/textile_industry_hazards.pdf
- Microfibres https://stopmicrowaste.com/en/microplastic
- Green House Gases https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/fabrics-environment-fast-fashion-eco-friendly-pollution-waste-polyester-cotton-fur-recycle-a8963921.html
- Deforestation https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/sustainable-fashion-blog/deforestation-fashion-brands-pledge-forest-fibres