The Severe Issue of Fashion Pollution

Mahatma Gandhi, the founder of Khadi movement once said, “There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness”. The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world and accounts for 10% of the greenhouse gas emissions. According to a recent report, this industry generates more greenhouse gases than the international shipping and aviation industries combined.

Cotton is the most common natural fibre used to make clothing, accounting for about 33% of all fibres found in textiles. Cotton is also a very thirsty crop, which means one requires 2,700 litres of water—which one person drinks in two and half years—to make one cotton shirt. In areas like Maharashtra and Gujarat which are already facing water stress, cotton production can be particularly damaging. Polyesters are also one of the most popularly used fabrics. When Polyester garments are washed, they shed microfibers that add to the increasing plastic in the sea. These microfibers are minute and can easily pass through the sewage and wastewater treatment plants into our waterways but because these microfibers are not biodegradable, they pose a threat to the aquatic life. Small creatures like plankton eat these and make their way up to the food chain to fish and shellfish, which are eventually eaten by humans.

Majority of the world’s apparel conglomerates are U.S. based, yet more than 60 percent of world clothing is manufactured in developing countries. Asia is the major clothing exporter today, producing more than 32 percent of the world’s supply. China is the leading world producer and supplier of clothing, providing nearly 13 percent of the world’s exports. But as production and labour costs rise in China, clothing companies are moving to countries where manufacturing is cheaper. Places like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Pakistan and the Philippines are therefore being looked at. These countries however, might not have the raw materials needed, so they’re often shipped there from countries like China, the U.S. and India.

Apparel spending is projected to grow tremendously. This is particularly true in Asia, as hundreds of millions of people in China and India enter the global middle class. With such a situation arising, consumers can help to change where they shop from and what they shop.

Fast Fashion is also emerging as an issue along with this. Fast fashion focuses on speed and low cost in order to deliver frequent new collections inspired by catwalk looks or celebrity styles. But it is particularly bad for the environment, as pressure to reduce cost and time taken to get a product from design to shop floor, consequently means that environmental corners are more likely to be cut. Criticisms of fast fashion include its negative environmental impact, water pollution, the use of toxic chemicals and increasing levels of textile waste. Textile waste is an unintended consequence of fast fashion because people don’t keep clothes for as long as they used to. More and more people thus buy more and more clothes. The international expansion of fast fashion retailers exacerbates the problem on a global scale. Wardrobes in developed nations are saturated, so in order to sell more products, retailers must tempt shoppers with constant newness and convince them to believe that the items they already have are no longer fashionable.

Increasing disposable income levels over recent generations means there is less need to “make do and mend”, as it’s often cheaper and more convenient to buy new than have an item repaired. Busy lifestyles make many people more time-poor than previous generations, and with the loss of sewing and mending skills over time, there is less impetus on repairing garments.

But there are still ways to prevent the environmental damage by taking small steps. Take linen, it is a natural material woven from the fibres of the flax plant. It is expensive but it lasts longer than other materials. Other alternative includes using a fibre collecting device in your washing machine. This device collects the microfibers, which you can scoop and throw it in the trash. This way they won’t work their way to the water bodies. Donating clothes will help the people in need and clothes will not land up in the landfills. You can also wash your clothes less frequently. Many of us throw the clothes into the laundry even when they are not really dirty, maybe we could reconsider doing so the next time. This will not only help with the fibres but it will use fewer energy sources like water, electricity. Such steps could collectively create a huge impact and should therefore be accepted as a part of our day-to-day lifestyle.

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