Fashion: Sustainability the costs to the environment

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December 2021 News

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Fashion the costs to the environment   

A UK household spends, on average £1500 per year replacing last year’s clothes. Where do all of the unwanted clothes go? Some get donated to charities for further distribution. Others get dropped in the recycling bin, where most consumers assume they will end up in a recycling centre, where the fabric will be broken down and absorbed back into raw material production. All is well, right ??

Not Quite !!!

According to a 2017 Environmental Protection Agency report, only about 15% of the 15 million tons of textiles that get discarded actually get recycled, while the rest 12,750,000 tons gets dumped in landfills or simply filters as litter into the environment. And the tonnage isn’t slowing down its getting worse.

Fast fashion has become a major source of pollution. The end to end production process of clothing requires large amounts of land, labour, chemicals, machinery, energy, and water, not to mention the packaging materials for distribution and sale. And the resource bill does not end at purchase: The majority of the energy consumption in the life cycle of a cotton shirt derives from post-purchase washing and drying.

On the public health front, watchdog organisations have detected a wide range of persistent, bio accumulative, carcinogenic and toxic chemicals in a variety of clothing, including children’s apparel, among suppliers and retailers around the world. Greenpeace also has linked serious river pollution in multiple developing countries to garment factory wastewater discharge. These images are quite disturbing.

In China, there are over 400 “cancer villages” where cancer occurs at an extraordinarily high rate due to industrial water pollution, including waste water discharge from nearby textile factories.

In Bangladesh, for example, where about 5000 readymade garment factories generate 80% of the country’s exports to the West, the labour rate is £0.25 per hour. In such developing economies, the demand for jobs is just as dire as the retailers’ desire to cut costs, driving the damaging cycle to new lows. Almost 80% of the 3.6 million workers in Bangladesh are illiterate women who lack the knowledge, resources, or power to organise themselves and voice their workers’ rights before a government composed of factory owners or their associates. Without understanding the environmental impact of their actions, many also are used to the practice of releasing untreated industry discharge directly into nearby rivers.

Of course, fast fashion delivers certain benefits for the end consumer. The main benefit is a seemingly inexhaustible supply of cheap fashion items. Meanwhile, in the developing countries where these items are produced, fast fashion incurs real consequences. Is the trade-off worth it? It’s a question that has not been asked or considered widely enough. What’s certain is that fast fashion is an unsustainable business model destined to exhaust its fuel.

What is ‘Sustainable’ fashion?

'Sustainable' fashion refers to garments that have been made in a way that is mindful of the many environmental issues the fashion industry touches upon. The four main issues to consider when it comes to sustainability and fashion:

·       Water consumption and contamination (high levels are not only consumed in the production of clothing, but also when we wash our clothes)

·       Energy emissions (high use of energy in the production of synthetic fabrics, for example, and in the washing, drying and ironing of our clothes)

·       Chemical usage (fertilizers and pesticides used in the production of raw materials like cotton)

·       Waste creation (the levels of textiles that are incinerated or sent to landfill are enormous).


When we take into consideration all of the facts listed above its clear that this is a global issue of gigantic proportions and our shopping habits have changed and with cheaper and cheaper clothes flooding the market place, every week these brands launch new items to tempt us in right  and we always want the latest design and style and we buy way too many clothes.


The Fashion industry is aware of all the issues around making products more sustainable but it’s not that easy to change, it take time and financial investment and currently to buy sustainable fashion is not that feasible as its expensive.

The fashion industry is also having a tough time even before the COVID 19 pandemic, quite a few fashion businesses have been struggling to compete with all the online fashion brands that don’t have all the overheads of stores and staff and have offered much more competitive price points. The brands that have survived will be thinking about how to make up lost revenue and the sustainable angle although not forgotten will not be at the forefront immediately.


I would recommend if you haven’t seen it Stacey Dooley investigates Fashions dirty secrets which really visually sums up all this information perfectly.


What can you do ?


·      Buy less .. we do not need so many clothes .. If you haven’t had a Style class book in for one you will save so much time and energy and will ultimately buy less clothes and save money. Every client endorses this point.


·      Buy better quality … try not to buy all these really cheap brands that are polluting all these waterways worldwide with their cheap dyes the effect on the environment is catastrophic ..


·      Buy second hand pre loved and unworn pieces from designer dress agencies or local ones would be great and of course any of the online second hand market places and when the charity shops open get down there and support them.


·      Donate your unloved pieces to charities that help people one amazing charity supports women getting jobs donating your clothes to them for interviews etc .. a great cause and recycling your old clothes but there are lots out there.


·      Sell your unwanted clothes so you are doing your own recycling .. just don’t replace them again so quickly …


·      Upcycle your old clothes put new buttons on or remodel it and get your sewing machine out .. it’s very easy and therapeutic to do sewing . Add some new trims or braiding. Shorten or lengthen.