The Apparel Industry’s Environmental Impact

Now more than ever, we need to take good care of our planet. We can do this in a variety of ways: not choosing single-use plastic, eating less meat, biking and walking more, even recycling our clothes. There are tons of articles out there about how we can make small changes in our lives to make a big impact on the world. But it’s important to know how those changes (or not making those changes) can impact the world as we know it.

In a previous post, we talked about some of the important reasons to recycle your clothes. A lot of those reasons tie to the apparel industry’s environmental impact overall. Today, we’ll delve into how widespread their impact is on the environment and how making some smart switches can help reduce the stain the industry is making on our world. Read on!

Apparel Industry and Water Consumption

Water preservation is one of the most important things we can do to help the environment, which means cutting back on things that use a lot of water. We take shorter showers, switch to smart home appliances, but we also need to be aware of what else in the big picture is using a lot of water. The apparel industry is one of those big picture water users.

Take cotton, for example. Many people consider it to be a smart, natural fiber, and although it is natural, it is also very thirsty. One cotton shirt requires 2,700 liters of water for its creation. That is the amount of water one person drinks in two and a half years. So in the areas where water stress is already a huge problem, the apparel industry and its cotton shirt production is particularly damaging. Cotton is just one example of the major water consumption problem this industry has; water is also consumed for the dyeing and finishing process for all clothes.

You can make a change by choosing fibers with low water consumption such as linen and recycled fibers.

Fashion Industry and Water Pollution

The apparel industry also affects Earth’s water supply via pollution. In most countries where garments are produced, untreated toxic wastewaters from textile factories are dumped directly into water sources. Wastewater toxins from the fashion industry include toxic substances like lead, mercury, arsenic, and more. These aren’t harmful only for aquatic life but also for the millions of people who need that fresh water to survive. Even things like the fertilizers used for cotton production pollute runoff waters.

You can make a change by choosing clothes made in countries with stricter environmental regulations for factories (EU and Canada are good choices). You can also start choosing clothes made from organic and natural fibers that don’t require chemicals of any sort to be produced.

Apparel Industry and Waste Accumulation

Waste accumulation is a huge problem. Landfills are filled to the brim and are expanding every second, and when people throw away clothes, they’re adding to that trash accumulation. Over the years, clothing has become incredibly disposable. In the past, people would find ways to reuse old clothes, whether it was by making something new out of it or through hand-me-downs. With fast fashion, we generate more and more textile waste and throw more and more of it away: only 15 percent of clothing is recycled or donated, while the rest goes directly to the landfill or is incinerated. When these pieces hit the landfill, they can take up to 200 years to decompose.

This fast-fashion idea uses innovative production and distribution models to shorten “fashion cycles,” or the number of fashion seasons throughout the year. Where there used to be two cycles a year—spring/summer and fall/winter—there are now over 50 micro-seasons in the year. Because of this, the average consumer is purchasing over 50 percent more clothing items than in the 2000’s, but is keeping each garment for a much shorter period of time. When you pair that with the fact that only 15 percent of clothing is recycled, you can see why waste accumulation is such a problem.

You can make a change by buying less, buying better quality, and recycling your clothes through donation.

Fashion Industry and Microfibers

We’ve been talking a lot about the issues of cotton clothing, but that isn’t the only fiber that causes problems for the environment. Synthetic fibers (polyester, nylon) cause problems in their creation as well as when we wash those clothing items at home. Each time you wash a synthetic garment (e.g., polyester), you release 496,000 fibers into the water. These fibers make their way to our oceans. Small organisms can eat those fibers, which are then eaten by smaller fish, which are then eaten by bigger fish. Plastics are therein introduced into our food chain.

You can make a change by choosing more natural fibers.

Apparel Industry’s Carbon Footprint

The above effects all loop into the apparel industry’s carbon footprint. There are a few aspects we haven’t quite touched on—greenhouse gas emissions being one of the main ones. The apparel industry accounts for 10 percent of global carbon emissions. Numerous industries, such as the transportation, meat, and dairy industries, produce carbon emissions. The global fashion industry is another big player, generating a lot of greenhouse gases during the production, manufacturing, and transportation processes of millions of garments purchased each year.

Most of our clothes are made in China, Bangladesh, or India, which are countries essentially powered by coal. This is the dirtiest type of energy in regard to carbon emissions. Synthetic fibers are often made from fossil fuels, another big carbon-emission producer.

You can make a change by choosing natural fibers and buying clothes made in countries powered by more renewable energy.

Start making a difference on the clothing industry by making smarter shopping choices and by following smart practices for getting rid of clothes. When it comes to getting rid of clothes you no longer need, don’t go to the garbage—turn to GreenDrop. Make the smart choice when you schedule a drop-off clothing donation in Springfield, NJ, and you’ll reduce the waste in landfills and fulfill smart textile recycling practices. There are tons of ways to follow smarter textile practices, and GreenDrop can help you do just that! Schedule a donation pick-up or drop-off now!