The Environmental Impact of Fashion

Waste clothes

14 April 2022  |  by Zoe Garrity

While clothing used to be something to ‘wear out’ and hand down, mend and alter, it is now part of a speeding cycle of changing fashions where we are encouraged to buy and discard clothes at an ever-increasing rate.

We buy more than double the amount of clothing now than we did in the year 2000, and the fashion industry is set to continue to grow by another 63% globally in the next 10 years!

As the quantity of our clothing has increased, the quality of it has decreased – the lifespan of clothing has declined drastically in the last 25 years. As clothes are not required to be long lasting, the use of poor-quality materials ensure that our new clothes look shabby very quickly. Ours clothes are literally being designed to fall apart.

As many as six out of every ten items of clothing end up as rubbish within one year of being made. Only a small handful of these are thrown away because they failed to sell, the majority are clothes that we buy: gifts we don’t like (and no else wants), promotional hats and t shirts, or ‘one-offs’ we buy for a specific occasion, along with all those purchases made without much thought as the product was so cheap.

This drastic overconsumption and underuse of clothing matters hugely, because the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry on the planet – second only to the fossil fuel industry! It is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions and 20% of the world’s total waste water. And this is set to increase: on the fashion industry’s own trajectory, by 2030 its emissions will be almost double the level they need to be to keep the 1.5°C target in reach.

This level of pollution is hardly justified when there are already enough clothes in existence to enable us to clothe the next six generations of humans. We cannot carry on buying and throwing way clothing at this rate – the planet simply cannot cope with the pollution and strain on precious resources (such as water), nor can it cope with the vast amount of waste generated.

So what can we do about it?

Finally, come along to SEA’s textile event on Saturday 7th May to learn how to mend and extend the life of your clothes, and a little more about the environmental impact of the textile industry.

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