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  • Julie Wornan

Fashion and the Planet

Fashion may be fun, but it’s one of the world’s most wasteful and polluting industries.


The UN estimates that 10% of total global greenhouse emissions come from the fashion industry. Dyes use toxic chemicals that pollute our waterways. Wood-based fabrics like rayon, modal and viscose contribute to deforestation. Polyester fabrics, when washed, shed plastic microfibers which get into drinking water and aquatic food chains.


Cotton requires a lot of water to grow and process; the amount of water needed to make one cotton T-shirt is what one person drinks in 2 1/2 years. Nearly 20% of global waste water is produced by the fashion industry.




Overconsumption and waste


“The main problem is the volume of clothing that is being produced, which is largely driven by our consumption habits,” says Anika Kozlowski, assistant professor of Fashion Design, Ethics & Sustainability at Ryerson University. “Every product has impacts. The reason that volume is such an issue is that it just exacerbates all these impacts.”


Consumers in the United Kingdom have an estimated $46.7 billion worth of unworn clothes in their closets. Up to 95% of the textiles that are landfilled each year could be recycled. Consumers throw away shoes and clothing [versus recycle], an average of 70 pounds per person, annually.


It has been estimated that if the average life of clothes could be extended by just nine months it could reduce carbon, water and waste footprints by 20-30%.


Some fashion firms destroy unwanted items to prevent them being sold cheaply. Burberry, the upmarket British fashion label, destroyed unsold clothes, accessories and perfume worth £28.6m last year, bringing the total value of goods it has destroyed over the past five years to more than £90m.


Black Friday


Since the 1950’s, retail shops in the US offer discounts on the day after Thanksgiving to entice shoppers to start buying their Xmas presents. Now, “Black Friday” is “celebrated” in half the world’s countries! In the USA, some retail outlets open at midnight or Thursday to accommodate the flux of customers scrambling for the Friday bargains.


The deals and the orgy of buying encourage many people to purchase things they don't need, stimulating overproduction and further stressing the environment and the climate.


And now we also have Cyber Monday for e-commerce. Its sales numbers are roughly 25% higher than those for Black Friday.



Viscose and trees


Man-made cellulosic fibers - viscose (rayon), modal and lyocell - might seem like a better alternative to petroleum-based synthetic fabrics. They are made from wood pulp. But the trees often come from old-growth and endangered forests - in Canada, Indonesia and the Amazon. It has been said that “Rayon is the palm oil of the fashion world.” The demand for dissolvable pulp is increasing at a 9% rate annually and projected to double in the next 20 years.


Wood-based cellulose fibres make up 7% of all fibres used worldwide. Each year 70 million trees are cut down to produce the fibers. The typical process for dissolving pulp for viscose/rayon wastes about 70% of the tree.




Suppose we keep wearing our clothes longer, buy second-hand clothes, and find better outlets for our creative energy other than shopping?


End note: the author of this post is wearing a wonderful warm 100% wool sweater which her husband wore in the Naval Reserves some 50 years ago. It has sprung a small hole but I will mend it. I don’t think you can buy such things anywhere today.


References

Fashion may be fun, but it’s one of the world’s most wasteful and polluting industries.


The UN estimates that 10% of total global greenhouse emissions come from the fashion industry. Dyes use toxic chemicals that pollute our waterways. Wood-based fabrics like rayon, modal and viscose contribute to deforestation. Polyester fabrics, when washed, shed plastic microfibers which get into drinking water and aquatic food chains.


Cotton requires a lot of water to grow and process; the amount of water needed to make one cotton T-shirt is what one person drinks in 2 1/2 years. Nearly 20% of global waste water is produced by the fashion industry.



Overconsumption and waste


“The main problem is the volume of clothing that is being produced, which is largely driven by our consumption habits,” says Anika Kozlowski, assistant professor of Fashion Design, Ethics & Sustainability at Ryerson University. “Every product has impacts. The reason that volume is such an issue is that it just exacerbates all these impacts.”


Consumers in the United Kingdom have an estimated $46.7 billion worth of unworn clothes in their closets. Up to 95% of the textiles that are landfilled each year could be recycled. Consumers throw away shoes and clothing [versus recycle], an average of 70 pounds per person, annually.


It has been estimated that if the average life of clothes could be extended by just nine months it could reduce carbon, water and waste footprints by 20-30%.


Some fashion firms destroy unwanted items to prevent them being sold cheaply. Burberry, the upmarket British fashion label, destroyed unsold clothes, accessories and perfume worth £28.6m last year, bringing the total value of goods it has destroyed over the past five years to more than £90m.



Black Friday


Since the 1950’s, retail shops in the US offer discounts on the day after Thanksgiving to entice shoppers to start buying their Xmas presents. Now, “Black Friday” is “celebrated” in half the world’s countries! In the USA, some retail outlets open at midnight or Thursday to accommodate the flux of customers scrambling for the Friday bargains.


The deals and the orgy of buying encourage many people to purchase things they don't need, stimulating overproduction and further stressing the environment and the climate.


And now we also have Cyber Monday for e-commerce. Its sales numbers are roughly 25% higher than those for Black Friday.



Viscose and trees


Man-made cellulosic fibers - viscose (rayon), modal and lyocell - might seem like a better alternative to petroleum-based synthetic fabrics. They are made from wood pulp. But the trees often come from old-growth and endangered forests - in Canada, Indonesia and the Amazon. It has been said that “Rayon is the palm oil of the fashion world.” The demand for dissolvable pulp is increasing at a 9% rate annually and projected to double in the next 20 years.


Wood-based cellulose fibres make up 7% of all fibres used worldwide. Each year 70 million trees are cut down to produce the fibers. The typical process for dissolving pulp for viscose/rayon wastes about 70% of the tree.



Suppose we keep wearing our clothes longer, buy second-hand clothes, and find better outlets for our creative energy other than shopping?


End note: the author of this post is wearing a wonderful warm 100% wool sweater which her husband wore in the Naval Reserves some 50 years ago. It has sprung a small hole but I will mend it. I don’t think you can buy such things anywhere today.


----

References

The impact of textiles and the clothing industry on the environment

Environmental impact of fashion

Putting the brakes on fast fashion

UN launches drive to highlight environmental cost of staying fashionable

Fast fashion is eating up the planet – and this feeble government enables it

Cotton: The Thirsty Crop

Burberry burns bags, clothes and perfume worth millions

Black Friday (shopping)

Fashion Industry Waste Statistics

How Wasteful Are We? The Fashion Industry’s Shocking Truth

Black Friday Around the World: Which Countries Have Major Shopping Holidays?

Black Friday backlash: Amazon protests erupt across France

Black Friday: Brands opt out for environment reasons

Your Clothes Might Be Destroying The Rainforest

Deforestation for fashion: getting unsustainable fabrics out of the closet

How wearing clothes contribute to deforestation and what you can do about it

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