By now we should all be aware that clothing from conventional productions is rarely environmentally friendly. However, it is often not clear where exactly the problems lie and what we can look for in order to improve something. We have summarized the biggest environmental sins of the fashion industry.
- Table of Contents
- # 1 Large water consumption and pesticides when growing cotton
- # 2 microplastics in polyester & co.
- # 3 harmful substances in dyeing, bleaching etc.
- # 4 Large energy consumption and factory pollution
- # 5 Transport from developing country to us
- # 6 plastic packaging, transportation and returns from online retailers
- # 7 The apparently insatiable demand from consumers
- # 8 where to put the old clothes?
- Who needs to change something? The consumer or the industry?
Dyed with toxic substances by underpaid workers and then shipped halfway around the world packed in plastic. If we take a closer look at the production routes of our clothing, the anticipation for the big shopping tour at the weekend is reduced somewhat. In order to understand why clothing has such a big impact on our environment, we need to understand the path of a garment from the factory to our closet. A closer look reveals how environmentally harmful the clothing industry can be. The eight biggest environmental sins at a glance:
# 1 Large water consumption and pesticides when growing cotton
In itself, cotton is a naturally growing raw material. According to WWF, around 50 percent of the garments produced worldwide are made from natural fibers. In order to meet global demand, not only does a lot of acreage need to be cultivated, the plant is also extremely susceptible to pests and requires a lot of water to grow. The result: In developing countries, where water is already scarce, it is used instead of drinking for cotton production and contaminated by high pesticide use.
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In the meantime, however, numerous companies, including fast fashion chains such as H&M or Zara, are already campaigning for more sustainable cotton cultivation. Projects like the "Better Cotton Initiative" want to support farmers in developing countries financially and train them in sustainable cultivation.
# 2 microplastics in polyester & co.
In addition to cotton, the majority of our clothing items are made of synthetic fibers – above all polyester. We all know that plastic is not particularly sustainable. And broken down is nothing else than polyester. When the polyester clothing is washed, microplastic is released, which in turn ends up in the wastewater and thus in the ecosystem. According to a study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology, washing alone releases 77 grams of microplastics per person per year in Germany. This is the 10th largest source of microplastic in Germany.
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In addition, there are the usual problems associated with all plastic products: they consume valuable resources such as petroleum, have high greenhouse gas emissions in production and are difficult to biodegrade. Therefore, we should, if possible, rely on clothing made from recycled polyester. This doesn't solve the microplastic problem, but at least ensures that less plastic ends up in the sea.
# 3 harmful substances in dyeing, bleaching etc.
According to Greenpeace, around 3,000 different chemicals are used in the manufacturing process to make fabrics supple and to give them the right color. Many of them are very harmful to health. This is primarily felt by the workers in the factories in Asia, especially India. They breathe in toxic vapors and work with the sometimes caustic chemicals without protective clothing. Working with sandblasting jeans is also particularly dangerous. The trendy used look can lead to fatal lung diseases during manufacture.
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ALREADY KNEW? The World Bank estimates that finishing textiles (dyeing, washing and other mechanical or chemical processing) is responsible for 17 to 20 percent of global water pollution. You can now read from our contributor @ franzi.uhl in the magazine what all this has to do with jeans production and what you should pay attention to in the denim area. Link in the bio! #letschangethatfashiongame #fashionchangers #denimlovers #jeansproduction #waterpollution
In addition, all the pollutants end up in wastewater or are deliberately disposed of in rivers, thereby endangering people outside the factories. But we, too, sometimes expose end users to harmful amounts of pollutants that trigger allergies and can sometimes even lead to immune deficiency and infertility. Particularly affected: black clothing and outdoor clothing.
Around 80 brands, including well-known companies such as H&M and Adidas, have already launched an initiative by Greenpeace that advocates replacing dangerous pollutants with harmless alternatives.
# 4 Large energy consumption and factory pollution
Many factories in developing countries also have another problem: they consume a lot of energy, after all, a whole range of machines are active here. This energy rarely comes from clean sources and causes a high level of air pollution in the affected cities.
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# 5 Transport from developing country to us
Since the clothing is almost made at the other end of the world, it is only logical that it must somehow reach us. The largest route is covered by container ships. Seen on a single piece of clothing, however, the ships make up only a small proportion of the greenhouse gas pollution caused by the transport. They offer space for 16,000 containers and are therefore an extremely effective means of transport. It only becomes much more problematic on the last few kilometers of the journey when all the clothes are distributed among numerous trucks that take them to their final destinations. As long as they still run on fossil fuels, the environmental impact is particularly high.
# 6 plastic packaging, transportation and returns from online retailers
The transportation problem was further exacerbated by the booming online trade. Not only is the transport to the customer important here, the plastic packaging in which most dealers deliver is anything but sustainable. In addition, many products are sent back after a fitting. According to an investigation by the Returns Management research group at the University of Bamberg, around every second package ordered goes back to the retailer. This means that over 70 percent of all returns go back to the fashion industry.
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Less is truly more. 🩳 Via @fash_rev #letschangethatfashiongame #fashionchangers #ethicalfashion #sustainablefashion #lessclothes #buyless #consumerism
# 7 The apparently insatiable demand from consumers
All of these problems, however, have one cause above all: the strongly changed consumer behavior in the past 20 years. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the average German buys 60 items of clothing a year. Every fifth of them is never worn, or only very rarely. While the number of garments produced worldwide more than doubled from 2000 to 2014 according to a report by the management consultancy McKinsey & Company, the time we wear a garment has halved.