Water pollution, toxic chemical use, deforestation and textile waste are all side-effects of fast fashion pieces in your wardrobe. ‘What do you mean it’s just a shirt?’ Trust me, I feel your pain. When I first started seeing information online that my top from Primark was contributing to deforestation back in 2015, I thought it was the most dramatic thing ever. Now, five years on, and after a lot of research – I am that preachy person online. Let me show you what has urged me to stop buying fast fashion for the sake of our planet.
Welcome back to the second instalment of 100 Days of Changing My Habits: Fast Fashion (FF) with Lamis Captan. For the last 10 days, I have been researching the environmental effects of FF and abstaining from fast fashion purchases. This post will break down many ways in which the FF industry is not environmentally sustainable.
A reminder: the purpose of FF is to speedily deliver frequent collections inspired by the latest trends or celebrity styles at LOW costs. This process inevitably cuts environmental corners. The combination of these cut-corners and wasteful consumerist behaviour has led to a serious global garment issue. To demonstrate the ‘throw-away’ culture in the UK, Barnardos (2019) estimated that Brits purchased over 50 million outfits (11.1 mil and holidays, 7.4 mil at festivals, 6.4 mil at BBQs, and 9.9 mil at weddings) last summer to only be worn once! In terms of garment weight, to BBQs alone, British people between the months of June-Aug wasted the equivalent of 300 double-decker buses of clothes. Additionally, as a society we keep increasing in the amount we have bought – people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than they did in 2000, and have only kept the clothes for half as long. The intensity of this cycle is demonstrated by the fact that some companies were producing two collections a year in the early 2000s, but companies such as Zara and H&M now offer between 12-24 collections in a single year.
Greenpeace’s ‘Detox’ campaign found that a number of brands’ clothing items contained hazardous chemicals. These chemicals come from textile dyeing, which after agriculture is the second largest polluter of clean water. Some of the chemicals which were found are banned or strongly regulated in many countries due to their toxicity, potential to disrupt hormones, and their mutagenic and carcinogenic abilities. So much so, some workers who worked directly with these chemicals and clothes were found to be at a higher risk of developing cancer…terrifying (Singh & Chada, 2016).
Synthetic fibers (such as polyester) frequently used in FF due to their low cost, are non-biodegradable and can take up to 200 years to decompose. When these garments are washed in household washing machines, microfibers are shed into their water systems which add to plastic in our oceans. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) estimates 500,000 tons of microfibers go into the ocean each year, which is the same as 50 billion plastic bottles. Due to their size, microfibers easily pass through wastewater treatment plants and into our waterways which presents a serious threat to aquatic life. Further, plankton and other small creatures eat this plastic, which has made its way up into the food chain and has been shown to be eaten by humans.
Landfills and greenhouse gas emissions
Here is another scary statistic from UNEP: the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second. Mckinsey (2016) estimated that over 60% of clothing ends up in an incinerator just a measly 12 months after being produced. Further, the synthetic fibres used in the majority of FF items are made from fossil fuels which involves an energy-intensive process. Researchers from Manchester University highlight that the increased use of air-cargo to quickly transport packages from China to the West (we are looking at you SHEIN, Yesstyle, etc.) travel around the world several times during the manufacturing processes omitting many dangerous greenhouse gases.
Wood-based fabrics (such as rayon, viscone, modal, etc) are from the destruction of thousands of hectares of endangered and ancient forests each year. These forests are typically replaced with specific trees to create the fabrics FF companies desire. Canopy (a forest campaign group) revealed that the dissolving-pulp to create wood-based fabrics wastes approximately 70% of the tree and involves a chemically intensive manufacturing process which gets into the soil. This loss of forestation threatens the ecosystem and indigenous communities. If you would like more information on this, please check out what has been going on in Indonesia for the past decade.
We have six generations of clothing to use up on this planet. You love the vintage 80’s button-ups? Find one on eBay! Is the Paris Hilton 2000 velour pink tracksuit your thing? I’m sure someone has it on Depop if you look hard enough. When these clothes already exist on our planet, it’s difficult to find a justification to produce even more. I know you all care about the environment – I see you engaging with Greta Thunberg’s content online, and buying reusable coffee cups and straws – it’s time to do the same with clothes. If you wouldn’t throw a plastic bottle into the ocean, why would you throw away perfectly good clothing?
But how do I do this Lamis? Here I broke down how the six R’s of recycling can help you navigate your next fast fashion conundrum in an environmentally considerate way:
- Rethink: Do I need this item of clothing? Will I wear this item at least 50 times? Why do I feel like I have to buy this item of clothing? Who made it? Would I be able to get it second-hand?
- Reuse: try to re-wear your old clothes as much as you can! There are many cool ways to restyle clothing items such as flannel shirts, or denim (YouTube is a great resource for this).
- Repair: ask for a nifty friend or family member to help sew that hole that’s been bugging you or replace that button. If you are thinking about replacing an item entirely based on a simple design flaw, see if you can fix it yourself first.
- Recycle: recycle clothes into new pieces! You want cute mom jean shorts? Do you have any high waisted jeans you are willing to cut up? What about that jumper you don’t wear that would look SO cute as a crop top? Or that plain top you really want to tie-dye? Try something new with the pieces you already have.
- Refuse: ask friends and family members to no longer buy you fast fashion pieces, or gift cards to fast fashion chains (I love you though mum, thanks for trying). Try to ignore the pushy messages from advertising and social media influences that you NEED a certain piece. I guarantee your life won’t be that much better with it. Therapy is great too.
- Regift/recycle: donate clothes to charity, share with your friends/family, look on social media marketplaces or eBay, and see what you can find in vintage stores.
How am I doing?
If you have gotten this far you are an angel!
Well, it has only been 10 days, and I have massively reduced my FF purchases before this challenge anyway. I was interviewed this week and desperately wanted to buy some new smart clothes. I really thought that purchasing new, trendy work-wear would make me more likely to get the job. Well… I proved myself wrong. I put on a hand-me-down jacket, shirt, and pair of shoes from my mum, and smart trousers I purchased 6 years ago and got the job! It reinforced a new idea for me that what I wear doesn’t form my whole identity – there is more to me than the clothes on my back. I’m hoping this attitude will foster a better love for less materialistic qualities I have – but I’ll keep you guys updated on this.
See you in 10 days guys, much love xx