How fast, cheap fashion is polluting the planet.


The business model known as fast fashion has become very successful. At very low prices—like $5 for a shirt or $20 for a pair of jeans—clothing makers regularly release new styles in a short cycle, prompting consumers to buy more items and sometimes only wear a few. But there is a dark side: the growth in clothing production has increased carbon emissions and other ecological damage, and has resulted in huge amounts of clothing being wasted. Some consumers say they prefer to buy clothes that do less damage to the environment, and brands in the $1.5 trillion fashion industry are starting to commit to sustainable fashion. Even so, fast fashion continues to grow steadily.

1. How does clothing affect the environment?

In China and the developing world, most of the energy used in the production of clothing comes from fossil fuels such as coal. Frequently, each assembly process takes place in a different country, which increases emissions from transportation. Textile production accounts for up to 8 percent of global carbon emissions driven by clothing, according to the United Nations, combined with shipping and international flights. Polyester and cotton make up 85% of all clothing materials, and both are harsh on the planet in added ways. Most polyester is made from crude oil. Chemical dyes are often added to the fabric, which can contaminate the groundwater. Polyester and nylon clothes throw off particles that pollute sewage when they are washed. Cotton is thirsty: producing a single T-shirt requires enough water to sustain a person for three years.

2. What is the issue of clothing waste?

Clothing production has doubled in the last two decades, but the world’s population has increased by 30 percent. It means that people are buying more clothes and using them for a shorter period of time. More clothing than ever is being discarded by both consumers and fast fashion retailers, often unsold merchandise to make room for new designs. Most used clothes are not collected for reuse or recycling, most are sent to landfills or burned, which emits carbon. Clothing is dyed and chemically treated and accounts for 22% of hazardous waste worldwide.

3. What is sustainable fashion?

It is a movement that aims to make the fashion industry more environmentally friendly by changing the way clothes are designed, made, transported, used and disposed of. Proponents say that garment manufacturers will adopt cleaner practices if they are forced to bear the cost of cleaning. Among the practices promoted by advocates: tight integration between the design and manufacturing stages, which often occurs on different continents. This makes fabric cutting more accurate and reduces fabric waste. Clothing brands are feeling the pressure and are beginning to cite the growing popularity of sustainable fashion as a threat to their business. They are also making changes. Adidas AG reports that by 2022, 96% of the polyester it uses will come from recycled materials. Hugo Boss AG says 93% of cotton will be purchased from “more sustainable” sources by 2022. For Gap Inc., that number was 81 percent. Burberry Group, H&M Hennes & Mauritz and Levi Strauss & Co. They are moving away from chemical dyes to plant-based alternatives. Many small clothing makers have entered the market in recent years, tapping into sustainable fashion, exploring the potential of “skin” from mushrooms and even algae to reduce disposable clothing.

4. Is recycling or recycling the solution?

Yes and no. Most clothes can be at least partially recycled, but the process has its own environmental costs. For example, fiber composites need to be separated using an energy-intensive process. Even after separation, 20% of the material can be combined with polyester or virgin cotton to make a new garment. In the US, only 15% of textiles, including clothing, are reused or recycled. Western countries have been sending their textile waste to developing countries, especially in Africa, for recycling, but those countries now receive a small amount. Some U.S. and European regulators are considering making fashion companies pay based on how much clothing they make, as battery and mattress makers sometimes do, in a program where the revenue can be recycled.

5. Does any of this make a difference?

not yet. Better practices still haven’t offset the negative impact of the industry’s rapid growth, which is expected to buy more than 100 million tons of clothing and footwear annually by 2030. Retailers including Shein Group, H&M, Zara and Boohoo Group have been overwhelmed by consumers. , activists and public officials blame the growing climate, water and plastic pollution footprints and “greenwashing” or misleading consumers about their environmental impact. Some industrial solutions cause new problems: organic cotton farming reduces exposure to toxins, but uses more water. And even the most ardent proponents of the transition to “slow fashion” recognize that without a radical shift in consumer habits, little change is possible.

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