When consumers stroll around stores and shopping centers in search of affordable clothing, it’s natural to wonder how such inexpensive clothing is made in such large quantities. The world of fast fashion holds the key to the answer. Beyond the appeal of accessibility and affordability, this industry has a significant environmental impact that is unavoidable.
Fast Fashion to Toxic Fashion
Fast fashion usually outsources production to countries in which wages are lower than those needed by many industrialized nations, pushed by the urge to reduce labor expenses. Low-cost apparel is made available through this approach, but its environmental effects are serious.
Consumers become oblivious to the true cost of their clothing since they are driven to purchase more at reduced costs. People are seen showing off their fashionable clothes, but the mounds of waste these purchases cause are hidden. Fast fashion has become a synonym for excessive consumption rather than an affordable option, which is why it should be called “toxic fashion.”
Alarming Environmental Impact
The world saw a 60% increase in garment purchases in 2014 over 2000, which significantly increased the fashion industry’s impact on the environment. Remarkably, this industry alone is responsible for nearly 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, which leads to problems with water scarcity and contaminates vital rivers. Even more concerning is the astounding amount of trash produced—roughly 85% of textiles are thrown away each year.
To make matters worse, when some clothing is washed, hundreds of microscopic plastic particles are released into streams, aggravating pollution. Furthermore, 70 million metric tons of trees are deforested every year due to the unquenchable demand for wood pulp, which is used to make materials like viscose and rayon. Concerns over deforestation in vulnerable forests around the world are anticipated to worsen as this number alarmingly quadruples by 2034.
Need for Transparency and Consumer Responsibility
The fashion industry emits an astounding 1.2 million metric tons of CO2 a year, more than the combined emissions of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in 2018, according to research by the MacArthur Foundation. Around 65% of clothing items include polyester, a material derived from fossil fuels, which contributes significantly to this environmental stress. Another product made from fossil fuels, plastic, is often used in hangers and packaging.
Due to the constraints of textile-to-textile recycling methods, less than 1% of clothing is recycled into new clothes. These systems have issues processing mixed textiles like polyester and cotton, separating colors, and eliminating contaminants.
Consequences of Disposing Fashion Waste
An astounding 53 million metric tons of clothing are disposed of in landfills or burned annually. While synthetic fabrics can take up to 200 years to biodegrade and release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, natural materials like cotton and linen can do so in a matter of weeks or months.
A shift toward a sustainable fashion model is necessary to guarantee the fashion industry’s longevity. This calls for tracking every step of a product’s life cycle, taking into account the social and environmental context in which it is produced as well as the materials, chemicals, manufacturing techniques, and disposal at the end of its useful lifespan.
Transparency is essential for helping consumers recognize and reject greenwashing. Ultimately, it will be up to the consumer to transform the fashion industry and move toward more environmentally friendly methods. They can influence market shifts and create a more sustainable future for fashion by taking into account the origins and production processes of the items they buy and making educated purchase decisions.