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Fast Fashion’s Growing Environmental Impact

The allure of fast fashion has undoubtedly transformed the way we dress, allowing us to embrace the latest styles at affordable prices. However, beneath the surface of this fashion revolution lies a mounting environmental crisis. Fast fashion, with its rapid production and disposable mentality, is leaving an indelible mark on our planet. In this article, we’ll delve into the staggering facts that illuminate the extent of the environmental toll fast fashion is exacting on our world.

Textile Waste and Emissions

Each year, an astonishing 92 million tonnes of textile waste is generated globally, equivalent to a garbage truck filled with clothes being discarded every second. If current trends persist, this figure is projected to escalate to a staggering 134 million tonnes annually by the end of the decade.

Moreover, if we continue with business as usual, the apparel industry’s global emissions are expected to soar by 50% by 2030. This alarming increase in emissions is a direct consequence of our throwaway culture and excessive consumption of fast fashion.

Consumer Discard and Declining Longevity

In the United States alone, the average consumer discards a whopping 81.5 pounds (37 kilograms) of clothing every year, resulting in approximately 11.3 million tonnes of textile waste, a staggering 85% of all textiles, ending up in landfills annually.

This culture of disposability has intensified over the years, with many clothing items worn just seven to ten times before being discarded. This marks a shocking decline of over 35% in just 15 years, underscoring the fleeting nature of fast fashion.

Dandora Dumpsite, Nairobi - photos: Caitriona Rogerson

Water Usage and Pollution

The water footprint of fast fashion is enormous, with a staggering 20,000 liters of water required to produce just one kilogram of cotton. This wasteful use of water, coupled with the lack of sustainable practices, exacerbates the industry’s environmental impact.

Dyeing and finishing processes in textile manufacturing, notorious for their heavy use of chemicals, contribute to over 20% of global water pollution. These processes also account for 3% of global CO2 emissions, along with yarn preparation and fiber production.

Economic Losses, Non-Recycling, and Microplastics

Our penchant for under-wearing and discarding clothing without recycling results in a staggering annual economic loss of $500 billion globally. A mere 12% of materials used for clothing are recycled, highlighting the urgent need for more efficient and sustainable recycling technologies.

Fast fashion’s reliance on synthetic materials, such as nylon and polyester, contributes significantly to microplastics pollution. With each wash and dry cycle, microfilaments are released, contaminating waterways and eventually finding their way into the ocean. It is estimated that half a million tonnes of these contaminants reach the ocean each year.

Returns in Landfills and Doubling Production

In 2020 alone, approximately 2.6 million tonnes of returned clothing items found their way into US landfills. Retailers often choose to dispose of returns in landfills due to cost considerations, worsening the waste problem.

The production frenzy of fast fashion brands has led to a doubling of clothing production since 2000. This rapid increase not only results in pre-production textile waste but also contributes to a post-production catastrophe. A staggering 60% of roughly 150 million garments produced globally in 2012 were discarded within just a few years after production.

Dandora Dumpsite, Nairobi - photos: Caitriona Rogerson

Urgent Shift to Sustainable Fashion

These stark facts shine a spotlight on the formidable environmental challenges posed by fast fashion. The fashion industry must embrace sustainability, incorporating eco-friendly materials, responsible manufacturing, and efficient recycling processes. As consumers, we play a pivotal role in addressing this crisis by making conscious choices, valuing quality over quantity, and supporting sustainable fashion brands. It’s high time we recognize the urgency of the situation and collectively strive for a more sustainable and responsible fashion future.

What You Can Do to Help

  1. Support Sustainable Brands: Choose to support fashion brands that prioritize sustainability, use eco-friendly materials, and follow ethical manufacturing practices. By endorsing such brands, you encourage the fashion industry to adopt responsible methods.

  2. Recycle and Upcycle: Instead of discarding clothing, explore recycling and upcycling options. Donate clothes in good condition to charities or participate in clothing swap events. Transform old garments into something new and stylish through creative upcycling projects.

  3. Buy Quality Over Quantity: Shift your mindset from buying a large quantity of cheap, disposable items to investing in quality, long-lasting pieces. High-quality clothing not only lasts longer but also reduces the demand for fast fashion.