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Contaminated Fashion - Başak Bozoğlu

The fashion industry has a 12% share of the world economy. Its impact on climate change and the depletion of natural resources is even more significant than initially thought. The fashion industry stands second place in polluting the world’s sources, trailing the oil industry. As the industry grows each year, so does the environmental damage it causes.

A high amount of energy is required to produce a garment. There is a complex energy cycle between using electricity and water (also other energy sources). If this cycle is not well optimized during manufacturing clothes, it will have irreversible effects on the natural sources.

The fashion industry has three main effects on world resources, namely, water pollution, carbon emissions, and chemical waste. To begin with, many countries do not have regulations on textile factories. In some countries such as India and Bangladesh, where cheap textile production occupies a large share in local economies, untreated toxic wastewater is dumped directly into rivers and subsequently into the oceans.

20% of industrial water, 200,000 tons of dye, 22,000 liters of toxic waste pollution comes from textiles are being lost to effluents and dumped into rivers treatment & dye every year in Bangladesh every day.

The numbers are vital not only for water pollution but also for water consumption. For producing a garment, Cotton is one of the oldest, most used, and most preferred material when producing a garment. Unfortunately, according to The Guardian, the global average water footprint for 1kg of Cotton is 20,000 liters. It should be noted that it is used only for cotton production. Tons of water is being used over in different areas such as fabric weaving or jean production, and then tons of it become wastewater and cannot be re-used in any way.

For instance, it takes about 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans. That’s more than enough for one person to drink eight cups per day for ten years, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) ‘s statistics. In India’s case, producing 1kg of Cotton consumes 22,500 liters of water on average, according to research done by the Water Footprint Network. In other words, these 22,500 liters of water cannot be used for anything else later, as it is either contaminated or evaporated during the process. It is significant to note that more than 100 million people in India do not have access to safe water. According to Forbes, 1.5 trillion liters of water are used by the fashion industry each year, and 2.6% of the global freshwater is used to produce Cotton. The waste of energy is tremendous and dangerous for natural sources on the planet.

The fashion industry’s impact on climate change leads to water consumption and pollution and has a severe role in carbon emissions worldwide. The industry has a 10% impact on global carbon emissions during the production of garments, manufacturing, and transportation of millions of clothes in one year. Significantly, in the last two decades, with the use of materials such as nylon, synthetic, and polyester in addition to Cotton, the level of gas emission has increased. Additionally, these materials are made a form of fossil fuel; therefore, it leads to increased energy consumption compared to natural fibers in the production process. In China, Bangladesh, and India, a massive amount of garment production is powered by coal, and their share in the market is tremendous compared to European countries. Therefore, its effects on the environment are hugely detrimental in terms of carbon emissions.

Moreover, according to UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) ‘s statistics, the fashion industry leads to more carbon emission than international flights and maritime shipping in the whole world.

Many other examples may be cited regarding the fashion industry’s chemicals and their adverse effects on the environment. The fashion industry has a substantial adverse impact on the planet.

What makes the fashion industry the way it is then? First, people tend to buy more and consume more than they used to in the old days. The environmental impact of the fashion industry has been increasing year by year. We have five times more clothes than our grandmothers had in their closets. Many reasons can be cited leading to this point, including the fact that fashion industry employs more workers with cheap labor price, creating more production at lower prices, leading to lower prices that appeals to bigger consumer masses.

Thirty years ago, a limited number of garments were on the market, and they were not easy to access. Today, however, people can buy more with fewer thanks to fast fashion brands, such as ZARA, H&M, GAP, Stradivarius, selling high fashion brands’ (Dior, Chanel, etc.) clothes at lower prices, thus, allowing people from different economic classes to have further opportunities to buy clothes. Moreover, social media has become a new showroom for garments. People who follow influencers who wear clothes or use products to make a commercial severely impact shopping habits. Generally, people start to think about buying, wearing, and using the same product as influencers. They want to feel that they have the purchasing power like influencers, and if customers use those products, they can have luxury brands like them. Social media have an impact on both people’s decision-making for consumption and marketing in the fashion industry.

However, maybe the most critical impact of the fashion industry is increased garbage proportion with increased consumption. Garments are one of the most challenging materials to recycle. Social media significantly effect fast fashion dynamics, such as one brand has twenty-four collections in one year. Twenty-four times one brand create millions of garments. According to BBC News, globally, an estimated 92 million tons of textile waste is produced each year, and the equivalent of a rubbish truck full of clothes ends up on landfill sites every second. By 2030, it is expected that a total of more than 134 million tons of textiles a year will be discarded. The problem is that garments do not dissolve in nature by themselves; they must be recycled.

If we wear a garment five times instead of fifty times, it turns into the garbage, and only a small part of them are recycled. Some brands switched to renewable and recycled material policies. One of them is H&M. In 2013 launched a global garment collecting program in all of its stores and has set a goal of having all clothing sold in its stores be made from recycled or sustainably sourced materials by 2030. That figure currently stands at 57%, according to the company.

Last week H&M announced that the first in-store recycle machine will be used in Sweden, where H&M was founded. New technological devices turn the old, used, discarded clothes into something new in five hours, with the whole process visible to the Stockholm store’s shoppers. In this process, machines do not consume water, chemicals, and electricity to be environmentally friendly. Customers can choose one of three items to be made, and they can buy them for a discounted price ranging between $11 to $16.

When people do not wear the same clothes more than seven times, every piece of garments causes water pollution, gas emissions, water consumption, and garbage waste if they are not recycled. All brands can take H&M’s steps for environmentally friendly production and recycling. The fashion industry’s carbon footprint and its damage to nature can be controlled in the long term.


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