Fashion has been trending for many centuries, with rules like women not being able wearing pants, or old US laws that prohibited wearing clothes of the opposite sex, are long gone, but we can still see how trends are slowly changing, with less extravaganza but still. When we are talking about climate change, the obvious issues are well known, transportation that uses fossil fuels, cutting down trees that could absorb the increasing amount of carbon dioxide, or how recycling is important, but a lesser known issue that people do not really think about is the fashion and how negatively it impacts our environment. Not many people know how material from which clothes are made matters, or if the clothes are made from climate friendly sources, or if the final product left any toxins in the environment. That is the amount of CO2 emissions produced by the fashion industry each year is around 10%! With predictions of reaching 26% by 2050, and 85% of all made clothes are moved into huge landfills or are burnt.
Clothing is made from many types of materials like cotton, wool, or polyester and other synthetics. In numbers around 62% of all made materials belong to synthetics and 24% to cotton. What is worse is that production of synthetic materials is predicted only to rise, while production of cotton is getting smaller. Why worse? Well, synthetic material is the biggest ocean and river polluter and this study finds that polyester microfibers stay in them forever, and with the expectation of this industry only to grow, the future outcome seems only to be terrifying. When it comes to cotton, it is definitely environmentally friendly, even though it also pollutes rivers and oceans, this type of fiber degrades rapidly over time.
However, nature-friendly cotton is not as green as we would think. On the global scale looking through climate goggles, the cotton industry releases millions of tons of CO2 in the atmosphere annually. Unless the cotton is made organically without synthetic fertilizers, another worse gas called Nitrous oxide which is over 300 times worse than carbon dioxide, is released into the atmosphere. Water consumption during cotton cultivation is enormous, and it can cause huge problems on a small climate scale much faster than a global one, for example, let’s talk about The Aral Sea. The sea or lake that used to be 4th largest in the world, is now partially a desert. What happened to this lake was largely caused by diverting rivers for the cultivation of cotton, and other thirsty crops and plants like rice and melons. The dried out lake bed turns into dust storms that are already causing health problems to people living nearby because of the dust that left after the dried up parts of the lake.
Moreover, another issue with the fashion industry is dyeing, it is estimated that this process is contributing to global CO2 emissions by 3% and is expected to rise. Also, because the dyeing process is mostly done in countries with a weak environment regulation, which allows the textile industry to dump everything directly into rivers. Many types of textile can contain toxins like ammonia, acetic acid, bleach, or formaldehyde-based resins can be dangerous to the environment, and other toxins like arsenic, copper, chromium or zinc can directly affect human life.
The solution to this is complicated, but any step forward is a step to a better and healthier environment. Better government regulations on a global scale should be implemented, educating people about impacts of fashion industry on the environment and global climate, forcing industries to make clothes of better quality, or make them wearable for long period of time – like t-shirts making reversible after color fades away on one side, we could switch and wear on the other side etc. Some suggest that buying clothes of quality over quantity is better in the long run, yet only if we plan to wear those pieces of clothes for many years of course, but how many people would actually wear it for so many years? Well, at least me. I was given a nice jacket more than 15 years ago, and I still wear it, it still looks cool! Plaid shirts I bought over 10 years ago I still wear too. Buying clothes at thrift stores is cool and should not be fashion-shamed, since any type of recycling is the best thing we can do for our planet.