How Unsustainable Fast-Fashion Trends Harm the Planet

Fashion is the hallmark of society and evolution. Clothes have evolved beyond the basic function of warmth, protection, or modesty. Modern fashion is all about form and function, about making statements, and about putting your best foot forward. Given our obsession with fashion, it is no surprise that fashion trends come and go with increasing speed. Of course, certain things, like a leather belt for men, usually stay the same. But buying clothes for a single season and then discarding them is not just wasteful, but damaging to the environment. Explore the impact fast fashion and irresponsible clothing behavior can have on the environment.

Fashion Production has Doubled From 2000-2020

The two decades since the start of the 21st Century have seen massive changes. We have better technology, better production processes, and better distribution models. However, fashion production has seen one of the most dramatic increases. It has almost doubled by 2020 compared to production levels in 2000. The increased production directly implies an increase in carbon emissions from factories, raw material processing, and logistics.

Fashion Is Responsible for 10% of Global Carbon Emissions

It may surprise you to know that the fashion industry is behind 10% of the world’s total carbon emissions. That’s more than what airlines and maritime shippers generate, even when combined. This is a serious problem that will soon prove to be an unsustainable way of doing things. Unless the fashion industry initiates change, our need to look good could harm the planet permanently.

People Buy More and Keep Less

You’d think now that we have more durable fabrics and better production techniques, clothes would last longer. As a matter of fact, they do. But that doesn’t mean that people hold on to them. Thanks to fast fashion, people are buying (and discarding) more clothes much faster than they used to. Many of these clothes simply go out of fashion in a few months, which prompts people to throw them away and make space for more trendy clothes. Thus, the cycle continues.

Fallout From The Increased Number of Collections

It’s not just the consumers that are adding to the problem. Fashion companies have increased the number of collections they offer during a year as well. In the past, most European high-street fashion brands would release on average 2 collections each year. That number has increased by a lot. For example, Zara puts out an average of 24 each year. H&M releases 12-16 collections as well. Many of these items don’t live beyond one or two years. And each collection can contain dozens of such items.

Washing Releases Microfibers Into Oceans

Have you ever wondered about the outcome of washing dirty clothes? Washing releases around 500K tons of microfibers and the majority of these find their way into the oceans. 500,000 tons of microfiber is equivalent to over 50 billion plastic bottles. These microfibers often contain synthetically designed materials like polyester. This contributes to the increase of microplastics in the ocean, which never degrade and harm ocean life. Ultimately, they upset the delicate balance of underwater ecology, which in turn affects us.

The Outcome of Incineration or Dumping

So what happens when you discard clothing? If you throw it in the trash, it will pass through the waste management system. Ultimately it will end up in a landfill. With organic materials, this would probably not be as big a problem. But modern clothing uses a lot of synthetic fabric, such as nylon, latex, or lycra. These materials are much more resistant to biodegradation. Like plastic, they last for a very long time and end up adding to the growing global trash mound. The other option is to incinerate these clothes. This way, they won’t be adding to the huge volumes of physical trash. But the same synthetic materials can often release harmful compounds when burnt. This will result in even worse ecological damage than dumping your old clothes.

What To Do To Make Fashion More Sustainable?

By now you have some idea of the magnitude of the problem. The current trajectory of the fashion industry is irresponsible and unsustainable. So what is the alternative? Should we stop wearing clothes altogether? Should we invest in high-tech clothes that change color and appearance as needed? There’s no need to go to such extreme measures. Fashion’s global carbon footprint can be reduced in many simpler ways, including:

  • Shopping for pre-loved clothes, such as at thrift stores.
  • Repair, modify, and upcycle older clothes, like retro denim jackets.
  • Invest in ways to make production cleaner and greener.
  • Opt for brands with fair and ethically sourced materials and labor.

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