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The Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion: Where We Pay the Price for Cheap Clothes

From two fashion seasons, to four, to 52 micro-seasons in a single year. In the most recent decades, clothing production has been moving to the never-seen-before concept of fast fashion. This ensures that every time you enter the store, you will find a new collection, creating the pressure of having to buy a garment now or it will be gone the next time.

This concept has brought us to start buying more clothes than ever before and throw most of it out. In 2014, we were buying 60% more clothing than just at the turn of the century. The absolute majority of these clothes, 85%, end up in the landfill.

Needless to say that the environmental impact of fast fashion is huge – but where exactly is the industry most destructive and how did it go as far as to be dubbed one of the most destructive industries on the planet?

Water pollution and scarcity

To make all the clothing to be able to launch a new micro-season every week, fast fashion consumes a lot of water through the growing of crops, as well as the dying and finishing of clothes. Especially cotton is a very thirsty crop, consuming as much as 20,000 litres per just a kilogram (2.2 lbs) of cotton. Garment production is also responsible for toxic wastewater which is often dumped directly into rivers due to little environmental regulation in the countries where the garments are made. This toxic wastewater is usually polluted with lead, mercury or arsenic or other highly damaging substances.  

Another source of water pollution are microplastics – microscopic plastic fibres released from synthetic clothing whenever it is washed (1,900 particles per garment, to be exact). These particles are difficult to filter out at wastewater treatment plants and so they become a part of the water cycle, making their way into the ocean or even back into our tap water.

Made to be wasted

The fast fashion industry is designed to make us buy more and more clothing, only to keep it for a brief period of time before it is discarded and replaced. This is leading to garments piling up in landfills or being incinerated since only 15% are ever donated or recycled. This is especially problematic since more and more of our clothes are made of synthetic materials, which take hundreds of years to decompose!

Getting dangerously warm

Fast fashion is also a substantial contributor to climate change – it is responsible for 10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions! Where are all these emissions coming from? The production, manufacturing and mainly transportation of materials and garments from one end of the globe to the other consume large amounts of fuel. Many factories in countries such as Bangladesh are also powered by coil, increasing their carbon footprint.

Overall, fast fashion is undeniably one of the dirtiest industries in the world. Never in history has it become so profitable, as well as environmentally destructive, to sell clothing, as it is today. Thankfully, there are options such as ethical slow fashion companies or simply shopping second hand that can help you easily avoid the polluting fast fashion industry.


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  • Environmental impact of fast fashion