I could say a lot about the cruelty of some aspects of the clothing industry (from animal cruelty to the mistreatment of human workers) but today I’m focusing on the environmental impact of clothing.
All industries that pose a model of planned obsolescence are inherently bad for the environment. Like many of these types of industry, fashion is worth a lot of money. In 2010 the UK fashion industry was worth £21 billion and with a figure like that it’s easy to see that this business model is working out for them – economically speaking.
However, environmentally, there are huge issues at hand. Where ever a consumer item is designed to become obsolete so follows a pattern of huge volumes of waste. According to a 2007 study every year in the USA over 11.8million tons of clothing, shoes and textiles are discarded and the vast majority finds it’s way directly to land-fill.
It doesn’t stop there – the manufacture of clothes is an extremely chemical and energy heavy procedure. Dyes are packed with harmfull chemicals, synthetic materials can come from dangerous raw materials and natural fibres can require huge doses of pesticides and water. Cotton – one of the most common clothing fibers – is the most pesticide intensive crop in the world.
Of course, once you’ve bought the clothes there is even more carbon to worry about. On average 60% of the carbon footprint of an item of clothing is used up on post-purchase washing and drying.
What can you do to help cut down on the impact of your clothing on the planet? Well, Linda Greer, PhD, senior scientist at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council suggests three main points:
· Buy recycled (or upcycled!)
· If buying new, buy only basics that will last.
· Line-dry and wash at lower temperatures.
- So if you are buying new, what considerations can you make?
- · The USA and Europe have stricter regulations on chemical use then countries such as China (which accounts for about 30 percent of world apparel exports, according to the UN Commodity Trade Statistics database) so always check where clothes are produced.
· Dyes can be high in toxic chemicals, so look for natural dyes.
· When buying ‘outdoor gear’ there are some companies that use recycled polyester from plastic bottles and other similar materials.
· Check brands out – find out if they have any ethical policies in place such as where they source their raw materials and how they treat workers.
Of course, if you’re anything like me one of the best places to start, if you feel like you want some new clothes, is the back of your wardrobe where the unloved and forgotten clothes hide. You might find something there that is just what you are looking for to spruce up your look!