It may sound shockingly rude but it is true that fashion industry is the second dirtiest one in the world next to oil industry. When we think of environment-damaging activities, carbon emission from chimneys and power plants, polluted sewerage water, piling of plastic garbage flash in our mind.
Never ever we can imagine that our apparels that we carry so lovingly also leave huge carbon footprints on the planet. Assessing the magnitude of fashion carbon footprint is extremely overwhelming due to the diverse range of garments used by us.
But considering the immense complexity of fashion business involving various stages of production, raw material accumulation, textile, and fabric manufacture, designing, packing, shipping, unpacking in retail shops and garment disposing, it is bound to create a serious environmental damage.
The damage is even more with fast fashion trend:
Fast fashion takes a very short time to move from the catwalk ramp to the consumer. These apparels being inexpensive and disposable are highly appealing to the consumers as they can always upgrade themselves to trendier apparels within a week or two by procuring a fresh set and discarding the previous ones.
Major cities in the world like New York, London, and Hong Kong discard more than 1 million tons of clothes per year of which 80% are reusable.
Causing huge environment damage:
Amidst this extremely fast buying and disposing spree, one serious thing gets ignored – the disastrous outcome for the environment and society.
Occupying the landfills:
A huge bulk of the clothing literally lands up in landfills instead of making it to the consignment shops for donation. Only 10% of donated clothing gets resold in the US and the remaining about 13 trillions of discarded clothes find their way to landfills where they remain for centuries generating huge quantities of toxic wastes contaminating the soil and underground water.
By 2030, it is estimated that CO2 emissions from fashion industry are to increase by 60% touching almost 2.8 billion tons per year.
Severe water pollution:
Rivers, streams, and lakes are the first victims of the textile industry as they get easily contaminated due to extensive usage of harmful chemicals, toxic dyes, and detergents. Textile industry contributes to 20% of the water pollution. About 70% of lakes in China are contaminated most of which can be attributed to the textile industry.
Acute water shortage:
Cotton plants consume a lot more than a fair share of water. The extreme case of water shortage perhaps has been faced by Uzbekistan, the 6th largest producer of cotton. To meet the irrigation requirements for cotton plantation, the two rivers Amy Darya and Syr Darya were diverted from the Aral Sea in the 1950s.
Fifty years later, the Aral Sea is almost running dry holding less than 10% of what it used to hold before diversion. Drying of Aral Sea severely affected the coastal community and fishing industry not to mention the over-accumulation of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the water.
A similar impact is felt in Pakistan’s Indus River, Australia’s Murray-Darling basin and in Rio Grande of the US and Mexico. India and China, the leading cotton producers are also not left out of this peril.
Though organic cotton is a sustainable alternative but it constitutes only 1% of the total cotton production. Growing organic cotton is expensive as well. Its water consumption is still above average. Due to the use of similar dyeing chemicals and global shipping, using the organic variety is not going to make a big difference in leaving carbon footprints.
Mass exploitation of human capital:
A generation of young women is trapped in poverty due to this fast fashion trend. 75 million people are working in apparel industry of which 80% are young women 18-24 years old. A majority of these workers earn a meager $3 dollars per day.
These young women workers work on an average 14 hours per day not to speak of the additional sexual harassment, which becomes the part and parcel of this job.
The following reports further uphold the grim situation:
- In a report, women workers in the textile industry of Guandong province in China spend 150 hours working overtime with a meager pay. They are not covered by any insurance.
- The textile industry in Cambodia employs 80% women labor. Most of them are breadwinners of the family and are unable to afford a decent standard of living with the poor wages.
- 97% of global apparel production is carried out in countries where poor labor regulations and rock-bottom labor costs rule.
The silver lining:
Few reputed cloth designers are using organic cotton in most of their apparel production considerably reducing the water consumption and carbon emission. But the real game changer would be if these leading fashion houses can make and sell sustainable garments. Till then, it is up to the buyers to think and ponder and avoid discarding garments in short intervals.