To the eyes of the consumer, environmental impacts of a fashion item is rarely a concern. Little do they know that of the 1 billion pair of jeans sold worldwide annually, it takes 7000 litres (L) of water to make just one pair; nor do they know that fashion is the third most polluting industry of the world, just after oil and agriculture. Every piece of clothing comes with a cost that is hidden from us. In order to be a conscious fashion consumer, we think it is important to be aware of the impact behind the making of your favourite t-shirt or pair of skinny jeans.
Fashion is such a thirsty industry that it is the 2nd largest consumer of water. From the dyeing process to preparing the fabrics to garment washing, a vast amount of water is used, before dumping it into the waterways without any treatments. In order to dye 28 billion kilograms of garment, the fashion industry uses over 5 trillion litres of water each year, which equals to 2 million olympic). It is not hard to imagine GLASA, 2015-sized swimming pools (treatment & dyeing of textile accounts for 20% of global industrial water pollution when making a t-shirt takes 2500 L of water and making a pair of jeans take 7000L. Currently there are 840 million people lacking access to safe water; and if we sustain the current pace, by 2025, 2/3 of the world will be water-stressed.
A rough number from the World Resources Institute (WRI) shows that the fashion industry accounts for 5% of the total emission of global greenhouse gas. This is as much as the aviation sector has generated or in country's terms; about as much as Russia. Comparing to cotton, the production of polyester is especially carbon intensive: polyester production for textiles released about 706 billion kg (1.5 trillion pounds) of greenhouse gases in 2015, the equivalent of 185 coal-fired power plants' annual emissions. Besides, upon combustion , synthetic fibres also releases harmful subtsances such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) ad tons of other greenhouse gases such as CO2, methane and nitrous oxide.
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The rise of fast fashion has split the normal 2 fashion cycles into 50 cycles per year. Of the 400 billion m ² of textile made each year, a whopping 60 billion m² is cutting room floor waste. We are consuming about 80 billion new pieces of clothing annually. Comparing 2014 to 2000, the average customer is buying 60% more of clothing, but keeping each garment half as long (McKinsey, 2016). An average The americans throws away 25 billion pounds of textile every year, which translates to 82 pounds per U.S. resident and 85% of this goes straight to the landfill, sitting there for at least 200 years while releasing toxic gases. On the other hand, the UK is throwing away £140 million worth of clothing annually, roughly around 350,000 tonnes of clothing.
The fashion industry is no stranger to accusations about worker exploitation. In pursuing low-cost production, companies have turned to employing child & forced labour, paying disgraceful amount of wages (sometimes not paying at all), and under-providing safety measures. For instance, it is estimated that there are 3.2 million child labour in Bangladesh. This translates to 1 in 5 children between the age 5 to 14 years old; only 25% of them attend schools. Moreover, these low-skillled work are often sub-contracted to shadow factories to meet the overwhelming demand from fast fashion. These unregistered factories fosters an unregulated environment for even more exploitations and abuse. Having to work in small-spaced, low-hygiene environments over long hours, workers are subjected to appalling and sometimes, fatal living conditions. The Rana Plaza Tragedy in 2013 has always served as an examplar. In addition, as workers deal with hazardous chemicals without any safety measures, they are often plagued with different kinds of illnesses such as respiratory diseases, cancers, gastric and skin issues.