Climate Cost of Fast Fashion…… 

Posted by : Karun Tyagi

What is the one tag that you glance at when you pick up a dress? The price tag, right? What if the clothes also came with a climate tag? Would you be interested in looking at it before purchasing the garment? France is considering implementing such a tag by the year 2023, and beginning the following year, each and every article of clothing that is sold in France will come with a climate impact tag. This tag will tell the buyer how the garment has affected the environment, such as whether the factory in which it was made was powered with solar power or coal, how many litres of water went into the production of that cotton shirt, how far it travelled, the garment’s carbon footprint, and the type of dye that was used. In addition, What kind of impact does that colour have on the earth, and how much more pollution does it cause with each cycle through the washing machine that that shirt goes through? You will have access to all of these data points, which translates to the ability to form an opinion on what a climate tag should like in order to assist customers in making educated decisions while also instilling a feeling of guilt.

The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world and the first or second-largest source of employment in many countries, the ecological impact of the fashion industry is enormous. Few statistics related to the fashion industry are

  • the fashion industry creates 6.7%of global climate impact
  • 80 billion of new clothing produced each year that is 400% more what we buy 2 decades ago this figures will be doubled by the year 2030 and 80% of these will land up in landfills or incinerators
  • 90% of the fashion workforce is not in a position to negotiate on their wages and working conditions
  • Average American dumps 82 pounds of fashion waste every year adding 11 million tonnes from the US alone
  • The fashion industry has 52 micro seasons per year as compared to 2 seasons a decade ago
  • Marine pollution created by the fashion industry is at 3rd position
  • 2.5 billion tons of wastewater is discharged annually in the textile industry
  • 80-150 L of water is used to produce 1 kg of fabrics
  • Average pair of jeans requires 200 to 300 litres of water to finish
  • Textile effluent is a toxic cocktail of inorganic and organic chemicals requiring multi-stage treatment
    These substances have high chemical oxygen demand (COD), Biological oxygen demand (BOD), total dissolved/suspended solids (TDS or TSS), pH extremes (acidic/basic), and low dissolved oxygen (DO) content. Organic compounds deplete DO during biodegradation, stifling aquatic organisms and plants
  • Garments are the 2nd highest at-risk product category for modern slavery

The fashion industry uses around 93 billion cubic meters (21 trillion gallons) of water annually, enough to fill 37 million Olympic swimming pools, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Along with finishing, dyeing is the most polluting and energy-intensive processes involved in making our clothes.

Wet processing of textiles refers to the application of chemicals or treatments to the fabric in order to give it the desired appearance or texture. These treatments can include bleaching, softening, or making the garment water-resistant or anti-wrinkle. During the dyeing process, large amounts of water and chemicals are required to ensure that the vibrant colours will adhere to the cloth and will not fade or be removed by washing. 

The textile dyes significantly compromise the quality of water bodies, increase biochemical and chemical oxygen demand (BOD and COD), impair photosynthesis, inhibit plant growth, enter the food chain, provide recalcitrance, and bioaccumulation, and may promote toxicity, mutagenicity, and carcinogenicity.

Fashion is responsible for up to one-fifth of industrial water pollution, thanks in part to weak regulation and enforcement in producer countries like China, India and Bangladesh, where wastewater is commonly dumped directly into rivers and streams. The discharge is often a cocktail of carcinogenic chemicals, dyes, salts, and heavy metals that not only hurt the environment but pollute essential drinking water sources.

As our clothing addiction grows, so will the fashion industry’s use of harmful chemicals. Pulse of the Fashion predicts 2030 apparel consumption of 102 million tonnes. Every season, the fashion industry wants to spotlight new colours, and “each new colour requires new chemicals, dyestuffs, and pigments.”

After wet processing textiles, companies send useless, chemical-laden wastewater into rivers and lakes. Water pollution from the textile industry is a huge problem across garment-producing countries, most of which are found in Asia due to its huge pool of cheap labour. Workers and people living close to factories often bear the brunt of the pollution. Gastrointestinal problems and skin diseases are among the common ailments that he attributes directly to textile pollution. The chemicals used to dye clothes also impact garment workers who, in some factories, don’t have adequate protective clothing and may inhale toxic fumes

he fast fashion phenomenon is the biggest concern where consumers are motivated to buy cheap fashion clothing, wear them few times and throw them away. There are many voices of concerns from NGO’s, environmentalist and independent organisations where they are highlighting the impact of fast fashion on sustainability of our planet and mankind

Many brands are taking steps to make things sustainable for their supply chain by forcing manufactures to adopt sustainable practices, sustainable raw materials, less use of water, safe chemistry dyes & chemicals, recycling & reusing of resources.

Many NGO’s and independent organisations are encouraging customer to buy less, buy sustainable products, use second hand clothing and renting apparels

Even after so many voices and actions, the end results are more symbolic and targets are far away. The few reasons contributing to this are

  1. Lack of transparency in supply chain
  2. No credentials for consumers to identify
  3. Sustainability is overused word for marketing purposes
  4. Actions are not translating into mass clothing production
  5. Commercial interests are still on top priority (concept of sustainable profits is still far away)

The two most important actions required to make the fashion industry sustainable are bringing transparency in supply chain and providing visual credentials for consumers to choose sustainable products

Well to achieve the above-mentioned actions, the way is to give digital identity to clothing through digital mapping and credentials. The ultimate aim of digital mapping is to cut down wastes, bring more transparency in supply chain, proving authenticity and bringing social change

The block chain and big data could help in mapping the path for making fashion industry circular. The circular model is based on minimising wastes and reuse of materials, without digital mapping it is impossible to adopt circularity in fashion industry

Before rationalising quick fashion purchases, consumers must also consider the following factors.

  1. Do I need and Will it last (Love your cloths and keep wearing them for longer periods)
  2. Ask suppliers about environment impact in making & usage (sustainable labelling)
  3. Take care of your cloths (read care labels)
  4. Select brand and retailers based on transparency (about their supply chain)
  5. Less maintenance needs
  6. Recyclability

Source: Wion (Chasing transparency in trends)

Source: www.wesustainabletextileforum.com

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