What planet is fast fashion on? 10 environmental issues we can’t ignore.

Fashion reading in the park by Raphaël Labbé

Today’s fast fashion industry is pumping out new collections for an amazing 52 micro-seasons per year. “New styles in every week,” a H&M in-store advert proudly proclaimed while I was looking for cotton tights for our True Review. “Grab it now, it might be gone tomorrow,” says another poster.

Never mind the planet

We’re told to buy lots and buy on a whim. After all, even if it’s a little bad for the planet, it keeps the global economy rolling and gives poor people jobs. At least that’s what Karl-Johan Persson, the CEO of H&M, tried to tell the Guardian:

“A lot of discussions are only on the environmental side, that we don’t need a lot of things really and that we could consume less of everything,” says Persson. “But if we were to decrease 10% to 20% of everything we don’t need, the result on the social and economic side would be catastrophic, including a lot of lost jobs and poverty.”

GARD Pro Not Registered

So we shouldn’t worry about ONLY the environment, because fast fashion is solution to global poverty and if we don’t consume like mad, we’re headed for disaster? Let’s think. Churning out mountains of bad quality clothes as cheaply as possible has catastrophic consequences to our planet, and that doesn’t happen in an isolated bubble. Quite the opposite, damage to the environment affects everything, resulting in lost livelihoods, ill health and economic destitution. Sorry, Mr. Persson, we’re not ONLY discussing the environmental side.

1. The retail manufacturing industry is the second most polluting industry on Earth, second only to oil. (Fashioning Change). According to WHO, 7 million premature deaths are caused by air pollution.

2. As Lucy Siegle highlights in her fantastic book To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World, each year the textile industry uses 3,2% of all the 1400km2 of water available for the human race in the world.

rivers run in the season's colours

3. It takes 2,700 litres of water to produce the average cotton shirt and 11,000 to 20,000 litres of water to produce a pair of jeans. (WWF) We may get our fix of fast fashion, but 750 million people around the world lack access to safe water.

4. The World Bank estimates that almost 20% of global industrial water pollution comes from the treatment and dyeing of textiles. Besides destroying local ecosystems, the chemicals end up literally on our skin. In an investigation conducted as part of Greenpeace’s Detox campaign in January 2014, hazardous chemicals, from hormone disruptors to toxic substances, were found in the products of every brand surveyed.

5. There are 20,000 deaths per year as a result of pesticide poisoning, many working in cotton agriculture in the developing world.

6. Cotton pesticides and herbicides account for 10% of all agricultural chemicals and 25% of all pesticides used worldwide each year.

7. Another disturbing fact from Lucy Siegle: the average amount of clothes (55kg per year) we buy makes each of us indirectly responsible for 33 kilograms of oil, 3300 kilograms of water and 55 kilograms of total waste every year.

8. In Britain alone, €190m worth of clothing, 350 000 tonnes of it, goes to landfill each year. In the US, textile waste already occupies approximately 5% of all landfill space. A polyester blouse, for example, will take on average 200 years to decompose.

9. According to Greenpeace, there are 435 discharge points releasing 32.2 billion tons of wastewater into the sea each year in China alone. In 2012, a staggering 68% of them had records for illegal discharge while 25% had never met national environmental standards. No wonder rivers are regularly reported to run in the colours of the season,  while in China, polluted water causes 75 percent of diseases and over 100,000 deaths annually. Cancer rates, too, are higher for people living along polluted waterways.

10. Thanks to the irrigation needed for giant cotton plantations in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the Aral sea has lost more than 90% of its water in the last 50 years. 35 million people living on the shorelines of this now dried up, contaminated wasteland have lost their livelihoods from fishing and tourism, and pollution has increased mortality rates by 15 times.

Aral Sea

Image Source

A vicious cycle

“By continually introducing new aesthetics, and retargeting or discontinuing older designs, a manufacturer can “ride the fashion cycle,” allowing for constant sales despite that the original products remain fully functional,” says Wikipedia in an article about stylistic obsolescence. So, on top of trying to dupe us into not wanting our clothes, and designing fashion that falls apart after only a few washes, we really don’t need to be told blatant lies. To say that focusing on the environment is narrow-minded, and that fast fashion is a necessity for global well-being, is just too thick to be swallowed. Would you just take that back, please, Mr. Persson?

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