Fast fashion has been a topic of discussion for some time now. Some of you might know the meaning of this particular type of fashion, however, some of you might not be entirely familiar with it. That’s why before going into how fast fashion is harming the environment I would like for you to have a clear understanding of what it is.
“Fast Fashion is an inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.” – Oxford language
Up until the mid-twentieth century, the fashion industry used to make a new collection every season, which means that the designers would work for months to try to predict what customers would expect for next fall, winter, spring, and summer. However, with the introduction of fast fashion, brands now produce about 52 “micro-seasons” a year or in other words a collection a week.
This type of fashion focuses on trends and low-quality garments that can be easily thrown away when the new hip thing is coming on the market. Apparel companies make around a 53 million tons of clothes a year and it is expected that if we continue with this growth we would reach 160 million tons by 2050
Probably after seeing these crazy numbers you might assume that the reason why fast fashion is horrible for the environment is because of the waste that this creates… even though you are not wrong. This is just the tip of the iceberg!
So let’s dig in and see why fast fashion is so bad for the environment!
1. Creates Waste
Fast fashion creates enormous amounts of waste, on average each of us throw away 31.75 kg a year, you might think that this is not necessarily a bad number but when you see what that number means on a big scale I doubt you think the same. We accumulate a total of 13 million tons of textile waste each year from which 95% could be reused or recycled.
After the clothes are thrown away, one of two things might happen. They are burned, which we all know creates air pollution, or clothes are dumped in landfills, which will take decades to degrade while they are emitting greenhouse gases.
Lastly, because it takes so much time for those garments to degrade and we keep on throwing more, it means that we have to occupy more space, which leads to deforestation and destroys the natural habitats of animals.
2. Water pollution
Fast Fashion is a big polluter of water, the dyeing process that factories use for the garments is very harmful to the environment. There are some sustainable factories that have come with better solutions when it comes to this part of the production however none of the fast fashion brands that I know use those factories, as it would increase their manufacturing costs.
Jeans are one of the fashionable pieces that require the most water, a total of 2000 gallons of water, the textile dyeing produces 20 percent of global wastewater, what is even worse is that in most cases this polluted water is directly released into the rivers and streams, without any kind of filtering to reduce the heavy metals. This of course affects negatively the animals of the surroundings and the people living in that area.
3. Toxic work environment for workers
Workers’ conditions are not ideal when it comes to this industry, I am not only talking about the factory workers but also the workers working on the field to produce the non-organic yarns that the fast fashion industry uses for all their collections.
In order for a crop to grow, it takes a certain amount of time, but as fast fashion is all about producing fast and in big amounts, farmers decided to change the way they work the land, in order to cope with the demand. Now, instead of letting the cotton grow naturally, it is sprayed with a lot of pesticides so that it can grow faster. These pesticides not only affect the land but also the health of the person working in the field. So many of those workers started developing all kinds of skin diseases that were not seen before.
Factory workers, on the other hand, are affected by all kinds of chemicals that the dyeing process requires and not to talk about unfair wages, long hours, lack of resources, and sometimes even physical abuses.
4. Damages consumer health
As customers, we are not exempt from health consequences… Harmful chemicals such as benzothiazole, which has been linked to several types of cancer and respiratory illnesses, were found on some of the garments. Wearing those poorly made clothes that are made without any kind of ethics can be dangerous for our health.
Another aspect that negatively affects our health that not many are aware of, is the cheap polyester that is found in most of our fast-fashion items. Every time we wash our polyester garment, it releases microfiber plastic into the waterways. This microfiber plastic is non-biodegradable once it has entered the food chain and the human water supplies. Even though scientists still don’t know exactly how that affects our health… I am not a big fan of having any kind of plastic inside my body.
5. Bad management of energy and resources
The industry produces an annual of 80 billion new pieces of clothes around the world, a 400 percent increase in 20 years. Clothing production requires a big amount of energy and resources.
The irony in this is, that we use energy and resources to produce clothes that we use until the trend is no longer a trend and then those clothes will end up in landfills. This means that we are not only managing poorly our energy and resources during the production but also at the end life of that product.
6. Carbon emission
Carbon emission in fashion has not only to do with the production of the garments but also with the transportation of those. Producing the items in China and transporting them all the way to the US or Europe every time there is a new collection, which apparently is once a week creates a massive negative impact.
According to Vogue Business, the ‘global apparel and footwear industry produces more greenhouse gases than France, Germany, and the UK combined in 2018, totaling 2.1 billion tonnes of carbon emission’
Experts estimate that the fast fashion industry is responsible for nearly 10 percent of total annual emissions.
When it comes to the production of carbon emission, just for you to have an idea of how much it impacts the environment, I will take the data shared by Levis Strauss & Co. To produce one pair of jeans, the factory emits as much carbon as driving a car 128,7 km. Hopefully, this data will help you consider twice if you actually need that trendy pair of jeans.
Most of us believe that fast fashion only affects the third world, that is an issue that if we cover our ears and eyes we won’t know about it, but that means that we are just fooling ourselves. Fast fashion is not only about unfair wages, poor working conditions, and contamination of rivers in some distant countries! It’s about creating a negative impact on our environment as a whole and is also dangerous for our own health in the long run as consumers.
These cheaply made collections that are trendy one day and irrelevant the next made a huge movement towards consumption. The constant need to buy more and more just for sake of buying is simply madness…
It’s not good for our budget, as we can spend that money on something way more meaningful, it’s not good for our planet, and it’s not helping the people in countries that have no choice but to work in those conditions.
Next time you buy new clothes, please ask yourself if:
- Do I really need this?
- Can I combine this with other things that I own already?
- Is this something I see myself wearing for a long time, or is it just a trend?
- How long will this last for me? (if the answer is one year or two, you probably don’t want that in your closet)
I hope that now you have a better understanding of fast fashion and how this impacts the world and us as consumers.