The environmental impact of fast fashion supply chains: carbon footprint to water pollution

Keywords:

  • Fast fashion
  • Carbon footprint
  • Water pollution

 

Fast fashion’s impact on the planet is disastrous. From sky-high carbon footprint, through water pollution to waste accumulation, fashion is becoming a dirty industry with more companies turning to the fast fashion production concept. The industry continues growing – and so does its negative impact on the environment.

At Moddanio, we reject the practices of fast fashion and its impact on the environment. We hope to provide an alternative for people who, like us, want to avoid this massive toll on the environment. In this effort, we also hope to inform about what it is that fast fashion does wrong and help you make more informed choices.

Water pollution and scarcity

Let’s start with water – one of the things we all need to survive. Fast fashion is not kind to this increasingly precious resource. Firstly, garment production consumes A LOT of it – mainly through farming of crops (especially cotton) and dyeing of the fabric. It takes 25-40 gallons of water to dye just 2 pounds of fabric and 220 gallons to produce 1kg (2.2lbs) of cotton.

Aside from wasting water, fast fashion is also largely contributing to water pollution, as untreated toxic wastewaters are flushed from factories and farms directly into waters – they usually consist of dyes, herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers. What’s more, this is done completely legally, as most of the countries where fast fashion garments are made severely lack environmental regulation. These toxic wastewaters contain substances such as lead or arsenic, which are very harmful to both aquatic life and the people living on riverbanks.

The industry’s carbon footprint

Fast fashion is a significant contributor towards climate change – 10% of all global human-made greenhouse gas emissions are emitted just by the fashion industry. This carbon footprint is largely a result of fast fashion companies producing their garments in developing countries, mainly southeast Asia. These are situated across half the world from regions where most fast fashion is imported: Europe and North America. Every mile counts when it comes to transport-related greenhouse gas emissions and the carbon footprint of fast fashion garments quickly adds up.

Aside from transportation as an obvious culprit, the location of sweatshops where garments are made also dictates the type of power they are powered by – and in these countries, fossil fuels are still used as the main energy source.

Microplastic pollution

Fast fashion has been particularly favouring synthetic plastic fabrics such as polyester, acrylic or nylon, due to the low manufacturing cost. However, these materials take a massive toll on the environment because any time they are washed, they shed microscopic plastic fibres into the wastewater. These are too small to be filtered out at wastewater treatment plants, and so they become a part of our water cycle, posing danger to marine life and also making their way back into our homes in tap water.

Waste accumulating in the landfills

The fast fashion supply chain is inherently wasteful – it produces clothing meant to be viewed as disposable and replaced quickly. The quality of garments is gradually decreasing, making them break faster, but the companies also promote a wasteful mentality through making shoppers feel like they must buy garments now – because they’ll be gone next week. In the US, over 15 million tons of used textile waste is generated every single year. Only a fraction is recycled, and most is deemed for the landfill.

However, this figure does not include the wasted fabric factories throw away because it’s no longer stylish or finished garments which are never sold. With such quick stock turnover, fast fashion companies are left with a lot of unsold clothing once new stock comes into the store. What is not sold on sale is not donated to those in need – it is destroyed or burned. To destroy these garments, clothing often has to travel all the way to Asia – usually India, creating more greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

Not only does the destruction process itself have a negative effect on the environment – it also means that any resources that went into creating the garment were wasted.

Soil degradation

While synthetic fabrics are man-made, fast fashion still relies on a large percentage of natural fibres – particularly cotton – to create its garments. However, this production is adapted to maximise yield and minimise costs no matter what it takes. Especially in cotton farming, the soil is being strained due to the overuse of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Additionally, some wood-based fibres such as rayon are a cause of deforestation.

Water pollution, drought, carbon emissions, plastic pollution, waste production and degradation of soil… the environmental impact of fast fashion quickly adds up. For us, these negative impacts on the environment are a big red flag signalling that the fashion industry is in dire need of a change – and we hope to be a part of it.

By Moddanio Cork Collection

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