Approximately 12.4 million tons of textile waste are discarded annually in the United States. It is nearly as much as the total annual waste generated by the United Kingdom. The textile industry is one of the largest industries in the world. Unfortunately, in addition to being an energy-intensive industry, it is also one of the most polluting. In 2007, the FAO reported that each person consumed 11.1 kg of textile fiber. The FAO’s report also found that 14.5 million tons of textiles were combusted, burned, or disposed of in landfills. It represents 5.8% of the total MSW generation. As the textile industry continues to expand, so does its environmental impact. In 2007, 70.6 million tons of textile fibers were produced worldwide. In 2014, production increased to 90.8 million tons. The textile industry accounts for one-third of the global waste stream. In the US, 85% of all textiles are disposed of in landfills. The average American throws away 37 kg of clothing per year.
While most of the waste is recyclable, recycling consumes energy and water. There are also potential health risks associated with dirty and wet textiles. In addition, the fiber can clog machinery and breed bacteria.
To address these issues, fashion brands have taken on the responsibility of absorbing waste through takeback and refurbishing programs. In addition, some companies have also created solutions to make textile recycling more sustainable. Using sustainable fashion practices is important because it helps fight climate change, improves trade and labor laws, and benefits animals. It also helps promote the humane treatment of workers.
A recent study by Quantis International identified three significant drivers of industry pollution impacts: fiber production, yarn preparation, and dyeing and finishing. The most energy-intensive step in textile production is fiber production. The leftover dyeing water is often dumped into ditches or streams. An estimated kilogram of cotton requires 7,500-10,000 liters of water. This amount of water is equivalent to 10 years of drinking water for one person. In addition to using large amounts of fossil fuel-based plastic, the fashion industry employs many chemicals to produce fabric. These chemicals raise serious health concerns.
Textile workers in developing countries often work long hours in poor conditions. They are paid derisory wages and are not guaranteed a decent living wage. Adapting to the market for sustainable fabrics is a critical component of reducing the environmental impact of fashion. Several brands are already using recycled fabrics and natural fibers. In addition, many are pursuing alternatives to animal-based materials, such as wool. Recycled fabrics are also less harmful to the environment than virgin fibers. For example, recycled polyester can reduce emissions by 50 to 25 percent.
Humane Treatment of Workers
Putting it on the grand scale, the fashion industry is plagued by poor quality working conditions, substandard wages, and a litany of human rights violations. To its credit, several companies are making headway with fair labor practices, improving the quality of life for workers in the industry.
Fights Climate Change
Whether you’re a consumer, a fashion designer, or a business leader, there are many ways that you can help fight climate change. You can support sustainable fashion by purchasing products made from sustainable materials, avoiding waste and water, and increasing your use of sustainable transport.
In fact, some of the most pressing challenges facing the fashion industry include using resources that deplete the earth’s natural resources and damage the environment. Some of the most critical areas of concern include water pollution, chemical pollution, and deforestation. The UN Climate Change has convened fashion stakeholders and created a work program to address these issues. The goal is to create a more robust collaborative network to address these problems and identify new action areas.
Fashion Industry Harms Animals
Despite a slew of animal advocates and a few edgy fashion brands, the fashion industry continues to harm animals in all facets of their lives. During a garment’s design, production, and distribution phases, animals are raped, abused, and slaughtered. Some animals are protected by law, and some are not. This has led to the abuse of millions of animals each year. The best way to minimize your animal footprint is to shop for clothing and accessories from an ethical and environmentally conscious company.
Helps Improve Trade and Labor Laws
Increasingly, the fashion industry is under pressure to improve workers’ rights in its supply chain. Many major brands now issue statements about valuing their workforce. Some also provide training sessions to help garment workers. But these efforts alone will not be enough.
There is a need to address environmental justice issues in the fashion industry. The fashion industry is one of the largest consumers of energy and natural resources. It uses 132 million tonnes of coal annually and emits 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases.
There are also other negative externalities associated with fashion consumption. For example, 85% of used clothing ends up in landfills. This is more than half of all textile waste in the United States.
The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world. It consumes a quarter of the world’s toxic chemicals and releases many microplastics into the ocean.