Environmental Impacts of the Fashion Industry

Stop for a second and take a look at the T-shirt you're wearing. Do you know it can take 2,700 liters of water to produce the cotton needed to make it?

Photo Credit: Mangtre Team

Some parts of modern life are, at this point, widely known to cause environmental harm — flying overseas, using disposable plastic items, and even driving to and from work, for example. But when it comes to our clothes, the impacts are less obvious. So, what is the problem with the fashion industry?

As consumers worldwide buy more clothes, the growing market for cheap items and new styles is taking a toll on the environment. In fact, the fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world, just after the oil industry. Generally, apparel production accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. By 2050, it could consume up to a quarter of the world’s carbon budget. The fashion industry is also the second-largest consumer of water worldwide, using around 79 billion cubic metres of water each year.

Why is this the case?

1. Water Consumption:

Cotton needs a lot of water to grow but is usually cultivated in warm and dry areas. That’s why up to 20,000 litres of water are needed to produce just 1kg of cotton. At the same time, a huge quantity of freshwater is used for the dyeing and finishing process for all of our clothes (200 tons of fresh water per ton of dyed fabric).

"85% of the daily needs in the water of the entire population of India would be covered by the water used to grow cotton while 100 million people in India do not have access to drinking water."

2. Contamination:

In most garment manufacturing countries, untreated toxic waste-waters from textile factories are dumped directly into the rivers. This water contains cancer-causing cadmium, lead, mercury, and chromium extremely harmful to the aquatic life and the health of the millions of people living by those rivers banks.

Another major source of contamination is the use of fertilizers for cotton production, which heavily pollutes runoff water and water vapor. Besides, cotton production needs more insecticides and pesticides than any other crop in the world.

In addition:

  • While people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than in 2000, they only kept the clothes for half as long.

  • A lot of this clothing ends up in the dump. The equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second.

  • Washing clothes releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year — the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.

  • Producing polyester releases two to three times more carbon emissions than cotton, and polyester does not break down in the ocean.

But there are things we can certainly do.

  • Rethink fast fashion.

  • Switch to more ethical and sustainable brands.

  • Consider shopping secondhand.

  • Try to look for textiles made from recycled or organic fabrics.

  • Wash clothes less and line dry to save resources.

  • Instead of throwing clothes away at the end of their lives, donate, recycle, or reuse them as cleaning rags.


Cover Photo Credit: Mangtre Team