Every step of the clothing life cycle creates potential environmental and occupational hazards, leaving a significant environmental footprint. Perhaps not the first industry that springs to mind as a major consumer of fossil fuels is the fashion industry. However, petrochemical materials from many of the same oil and gas companies that are responsible for greenhouse gas emissions are largely used in modern textiles. The fashion industry is the second biggest polluter in the world just after the oil and gas industry. In fact, around 10% of the world’s global carbon emissions result from the fashion industry, more than those emitted by international flights and shipping combined.
The textile sector also utilizes more water than any other sector except agriculture. For example, just one kilogram of cotton requires 10,000 liters of water to be produced. This puts a lot of pressure on this limited and valuable resource. In addition, %20 of industrial water pollution comes from the textiles industry. In many countries where clothing is produced, toxic wastewaters from textile factories are dumped into rivers without any treatment. Clothes also make up 85% of the human-made trash that is found in the ocean.
Additionally, fashion makes up 5% of the 300 million tons of plastic manufactured annually worldwide. Cotton has been replaced as the primary raw material for textile production by polyester, which is a plastic made from oil. Microplastic pollution, which is particularly damaging to marine life, is primarily produced by clothing made of polyester and other synthetic fibers. This damage is increasing as the industry grows.
Let's talk about the waste side of this industry. We produce an increasing amount of textile waste. Textiles account for 5.2% of the waste in our landfills. Only 15% of waste is recycled or donated, and the remaining 85% is either burnt or dumped in landfills. For example, some major fashion brands are destroying unsold products every year because they don’t want to sell at a cheaper price or risk recycling since their products might get sold on the black market. We individuals also contribute to this waste by throwing clothes away after a few wears. Furthermore, we are purchasing 400% more clothing than we did 20 years ago. We need to be more aware of our daily actions to reduce our fashion environmental impact. According to McKinsey & Company, consumers wear clothes 36 percent fewer times than they did 15 years ago on average. If the number of times a garment is worn were doubled, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions would decrease by 44%.
Some fabrics will probably always need virgin materials, especially if recycled materials are not easily accessible. However, by switching to more effective production methods that produce less waste, use fewer resources, and are energy-efficient and utilize renewable energy, the fashion industry can become more renewable and reduce its environmental footprint. We should also try to lower our own footprint. We can choose to buy less and buy from sustainable brands or second hand stores. Also, we need to consider donating and recycling before we throw clothes out.