When most of us think of pollution, the images that quickly come to mind are of giant industrial smokestacks, congested highways, and beaches littered with plastic bags and bottles – not pretty girls in Instagram-worthy dresses or star athletes modeling the latest pair of got-to-have sneakers – and yet the fashion industry is one of the world’s leading polluters.
The rise of “disposable fashion” began emerging in post WWII America and has accelerated over the past few decades. Globalism, technology, improvements in manufacturing, even social media has created a culture of fast, disposable fashion – where clothing is meant to be discarded after only a few wears or until the fashion industry convinces the consumer to move onto the next big trend. And unfortunately, all this fast fashion has created an environmental nightmare.
From the very beginning of that T-Shirt’s life-cycle, it’s polluting our environment. Synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon, which are made from petrochemicals, require large amounts of energy to produce, release potentially dangerous byproducts during the manufacturing process, and are not biodegradable. Even natural fibers contribute to the problem. Cotton crops, for example, account for 18% of all the pesticide use in the world and 25% of total insecticide use – not to mention the vast amounts of water needed to sustain the cotton crops. Leather also requires hefty amounts of natural resources to raise livestock.
The production and manufacturing of clothing adds another layer of environmental damage. There is the environmental cost of energy consumption and chemical waste from factories, which are often in developing countries where pollution and safety regulations are commonly overlooked. (Not to mention the humanitarian crisis affecting the low-paid workers in the dangerous garment industry.)
And what happens to that T-Shirt when it’s no longer loved or worn? The EPA estimates that in the U.S. alone, over 15 million tons of textiles are trashed each year, 85% percent of which ends up in either a landfill or incinerator – roughly the environmental equivalent of the carbon dioxide emissions from 7.3 million cars.
The good news? We can easily cut down on clothing waste through a variety of ways – and all without sacrificing a love for fashion.
- Reduce the amount you buy. The average American woman has at least 22 new, unworn items in her closet. Choose wisely and choose well.
- Buy pre-owned clothing. Currently, about 15% of Americans regularly buy pre-owned apparel. If more Americans bought pre-owned items, or more frequently, we could greatly reduce our amount of clothing waste.
Each year, the average American throws away approximately 80 pounds of unwanted clothing and textiles – that’s the equivalent of 200 T-shirts! When you’re no longer in love with that 90’s band Tee, sell it, give it away, or upcycle it into something cool. You can also donate it to a thrift shop like Goodwill, where it can be re-sold to another Pearl Jam fan or, if it can’t be sold to another consumer, sent to a textile recycling facility where it can be made into new, useable goods like industrial rags or upholstery fill.