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The Fashion Industry Is Killing Our Planet: 7 Shocking Facts

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Anna is a sustainable fashion enthusiast with a Certificate of Sustainable Design and wrote her Master's Thesis on Sustainability Reporting.

An image from Stella McCartney's Fall 2018 campaign, which was meant to highlight waste in the context of the fashion industry. This was shot in a landfill.  Photo: Harley Weir for Stella McCartney

An image from Stella McCartney's Fall 2018 campaign, which was meant to highlight waste in the context of the fashion industry. This was shot in a landfill. Photo: Harley Weir for Stella McCartney

Sustainable Fashion Facts

Despite what you think about fashion or even if you give it no thought at all, you still wear clothing regularly and that, my friend, makes you a participant in the $2.5 trillion-dollar fashion industry. How familiar though are you with the journey your clothes make from raw material to a hanger in your cramped closet, to its destruction (or lack of).

Retailers such as Zara and H&M have made it incredibly easy to buy clothes cheaply and loads of it. In fact, clothes have become so affordable these days that the average shopper buys 60% more clothing now than in 2000, but keeps pieces half as long (and feels like they have nothing to wear with a closet stuffed with clothing). Zara offers 24 new clothing collections annually; H&M offers 12 to 16 and refreshes them on a weekly basis (a great tactic to keep you returning for more). That's a lot of collections but not long ago, there were just two - Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. Fast, cheap, and disposable is the name of the game. But hold on for a second, let’s ask ourselves, how it is that clothes are so cheap? Who makes our clothes and from what? What happens to our clothes ones we get rid of them? Once you ask these questions, you’ll realize just how wasteful we’ve become and what devastating impacts our shopping habits are having on our beautiful planet. It’s seriously time we all take more notice and become mindful when shopping.

Below are seven frightening facts about the fashion (or more accurately, "wasteful, throwaway" fashion) industry.

1. One truck full of textiles is landfilled or burnt EVERY SECOND

Can we contemplate this fact? It is estimated that every single second of every minute, a truck full of textiles either goes to a landfill or is burned, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. That's 60 garbage trucks in just a minute, 1440 in an hour, 43,800 in a month, you get the point. The size of over half a million trucks full of clothing goes to landfills or are burned annually! That is a staggering figure and if you really give it some thought, it's mind boggling that we are producing so much waste.

6 of 10 garments that are produced end up going to the landfill or are burned within the first year of production.

You may be thinking you're off the hook for creating all this waste since you donate your clothes to charity but the grim truth is that only 10% of clothes donate to thrift stores or charities get sold, the rest goes to landfill to make up the grueling headline statistic.

2. The fashion industry is the 2nd highest user of water worldwide, producing 20% of global water waste

Can you believe it? The industry most of us approach so passively is responsible for one fifth of global water waste. The amount of water used for clothing production each year is the equivalent to 32 million Olympic swimming pools. While we're on mind-blowing facts, consider this: it takes 2,900 gallons of water to produce a single pair of jeans - that's the amount of water one individual drinks in about 50 years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.


Wastewater from a leather tannery in Cairo

Wastewater from a leather tannery in Cairo

3. Farmers near garment factories can predict the season's 'it' color by the color of nearby rivers

There is a joke in China that you can tell the 'it' color of the season by looking at the color of the rivers. Farmers should not be the ones to forecast fashion color trends but these days they get insider info from their rivers. It is is estimated that in China, 70 percent of the rivers and lakes are contaminated by the 2.5 billion gallons of wastewater produced by the textile industry. Rivers in third world countries that produce textiles contain a toxic brew of chemical waste and are sadly devoit of life. The local people in those countries oftentimes rely on these rivers for drinking and bathing water and as a result, suffer from gastric and skin issues and have high incidents of cancer. Our love for fast fashion is killing the planet.

4. 10% of the World's Carbon Emissions Are Emitted by the Apparel Industry

Each piece of apparel has an astronomically high carbon footprint. Think of the supply chain from seed to disposal and you get contributors such as farming, harvesting, and shipping fiber; the toxic dyes used in manufacturing and the waste created by throwing out clothes.


5. Demand for fast fashion keeps increasing around the globe

The number of middle class people around the world is expected to hit 5.4 billion by 2030 (about double the current figure), which is expected lead to a threefold increase in demand for clothes and other goods consumed (or shall I say over-consumed) traditionally by the middle class.

horrifying-facts-about-the-fashion-industry

6. The price of clothing has decreased by 6% since the 90's despite inflation of 87% since then

Since the 90's, the price of consumer goods have increased by 60%, meanwhile, the price of clothing has DECREASED by 6%. Cheap clothing is not cheap to the environment and public health. It's time to think beyond the tag price, which is devised to make you buy buy buy and throw out after six wears, on average.

CSIRO [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

CSIRO [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

7. Cotton farming is toxic

Think cotton and you most likely picture something like the image above. It's such a wholesome image but in reality, the crop is one of the most chemically dependent - and is used in about 40 percent of clothing. Cotton farming is responsible for 24% of insecticides and 11% of pesticides despite using only 3% of the world's arable land.

Organic cotton is a sustainable alternative to conventional cotton but it currently only account for about one percent of cotton growth. It also has drawbacks such as needing lots of water to grow and may be dyed with chemicals and shipped globally, creating a huge carbon footprint.

These mind-blowing facts tell us that the fashion industry is extremely wasteful and that overconsumption is a problem we contribute to individually. The next time you decide to buy an article of clothing, consider what role you want to play in our beautiful planet.

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Comments

Mohammad Yasir from New Delhi, India on June 13, 2018:

Whoa!

These are really alarming facts. The worse part is companies are busy making money mercilessly with no regret or consideration for anything other than their pockets.

Very few companies have ever chosen morality over profit and such a continued trend towards waste and toxin production is highly disturbing.

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on May 27, 2018:

Thanks to Peggy Wood for posting this hub on Facebook. I'm appalled at these statistics! I prefer wearing my older clothes or buying at thrift shops. People need to be aware of just what's going on in the fashion industry. Thanks.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 25, 2018:

Those statistics you shared in this article regarding the amount of water needed to make a pair of jeans, the toxic effects of waste water and more is very troubling.

I do not follow fashion trends and wear my clothes a really long time. This article should be a wake up call for many people.

I will share this article to Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook. This gives people more reasons to purchase used clothing from thrift shops or pass down outgrown clothing directly to others who can use it.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on May 24, 2018:

This is staggering especially when one has been to Cambodia and Bangladesh and see the factories. I have my clothes made as it is hard to find my size and I am not following trendy styles. I like what fits me and think out the design myself. I am lucky to be in places where I could have clothes made for reasonable prices. I choose the cloth and many times they come out cheaper than ready made ones.