The dark side of the fashion industry - Draquis

The dark side of the fashion industry-its negative environmental and ethical impacts

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August 24, 2023

Most people are aware that the planet is currently not in its best shape, with wildfires spreading everywhere, storms getting bigger, floods happening more regularly and the temperature keeps rising. There are many different industries contributing to this, but in this article I will be focusing on the fashion industry and its negative impacts.

I have to admit, for someone being into fashion and caring about the environment I knew very little details about the negative impacts that the fashion industry has on the environment. So I decided to do something about it and start some research. I found many studies and articles and I thought: “Oke, let’s put this into one article to make it easier to read and remember”. Well turns out there’s so much information that that might be the reason that this list doesn’t exist. I tried anyway, here it is:

“The list”

Textile waste

Let’s start off with this mind-blowing fact: Every second, one garbage truck completely full of clothes is burned or dumped in landfill. 85% of all textile waste goes to the dump each year and 95% of these textiles could be used again. Some fast fashion companies are producing up to 24 new collections per year, that is 2 per month! These garments are of low quality and cheap, they won’t last long and will be sent to the dump. People will buy replacements again, continuing this cycle and adding more waste. On average we wear clothes only 7 times before we throw them out. Since the year 2000 clothing production has more than doubled and it’s not expected to slow down. This means even more waste.

Now you may think, oke why is that a problem? Actually… there are many problems with this. All these discarded clothes have to go somewhere. Let me tell you more about this.

When we donate our clothing it gets sorted by the charity shops and the ones that won’t be sold are often shipped to countries like Ghana and Chile. There, the clothes are sold to the people on markets who will try and sell it again. However, about 40% of the clothing they receive is waste or of such poor quality that it can’t be sold again. In Accra, Ghana, most of these clothes end up in informal landfills or in the sewers which leads to sea, causing massive environmental damage. Accra’s beach is now littered with clothes.

In Chile, in the harbour of Iquique, about 59.000 tonnes of clothes are brought here on a yearly basis. Some of it is sold again, but about 39.000 tonnes end up as waste in the Atacama Desert. This dumpsite has gotten so big it is even visible from space. It is now labeled “an environmental and social emergency” by the United Nations.

It can take more than 200 years for these items to decompose. Clothing often contains chemicals and these can leach into the soil and groundwater, possibly contaminating water resources, harming both the environment and the locals. In both Ghana and Chile clothes are also burned to get rid of the waste. This will release toxic gasses which can be harmfull for the people living around these areas.

Emissions and deforestation

About 8-10% of humanity’s carbon emissions is because of fashion productions. This includes the production of fibres, transportation, washing/drying of garments and even the decomposing process in landfills. This carbon emission is more than all the international flights and shipments by boat combined! That’s another mind-blowing fact for you right there!

The rising carbon emissions are bad news because the greenhouse gasses are trapping the sun’s heat and causes global warming. This results into the extreme weather like wildfires, storms, droughts and heat waves which I mentioned earlier. All of these have a big impact on human and animal lives all around the world!

One of the things that can actually counter the greenhouse gasses are trees, which absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, instead of preserving trees we cut them down. When trees are cut down they actually release this stored carbon dioxide back into the air.

The majority of deforestation is linked to cattle ranching (mostly meat, but also dairy, leather and other cow-based products), soy for feeding those animals and palm oil. It’s estimated that between 70-80% of the trees in the amazon are cut down for cattle ranching. The fashion industry also contributes to deforestation. About 48% of fashion’s supply chain is linked with deforestation. It is said that more than 200 million trees are cut down every year and turned into fabrics like viscose and rayon.

Forests provide shelter, water, food and jobs to around 1.25 billion people around the globe. More than half the world’s land-based plants and animals and 75% of all birds live in and around forests. Deforestation and forest degredation are the cause for around 10% of global warming. The fashion industry is not the biggest contributor in this, but it is definetely not innocent.

Animal welfare

Talking about forests and animals leads me to this point. Billions of animals are suffering and killed by the fashion industry for their hides and furs. Every. Single. Year. Billons! Animals are caged and cramped in filthy cages, they’re beaten and kicked, feathers ripped out of their bodies, skin torn from them, mutilated and in the end…? They’re often killed in the cheapest way possible: beaten to death, anal electrocution, gassing and sometimes even dismembered and skinned alive.

In countries where animal welfare laws are basically non-existent dogs and cats are sometimes used for their skin too. Quite often fur and leather are mislabeled on purpose, so you wouldn’t really know which animal you are wearing.

If this all wasn’t bad enough then you should know that the production of animal-derived materials also contributes to climate change, pollution, land devastation and water contamination. Nowadays there are plenty of really good alternatives for using animal skin like “leather” made from mushroom, pineapple, cork and apple peels (and more options).

If you are able to buy new items with these alternative fabrics, which causes no animal harm, are cheaper and still durable, yet you still choose to buy animal skin… I ask you: “why?”.

Water misuse

The fashion industry has 3 big negative environmental impacts on water. (Probably more but I am naming 3 here)

  • High water usage: I can hear you think, that does not sound like that big of a problem, there is water everywhere. Well, that really depends on where you live. It is estimated that over 2 billion people are already dealing with water shortage. Is this all fashion industries fault? No, there are many other factors too. But the fashion industry is one of the most water-intensive industries. It uses a lot of drinking water from local communities for textile fabrication. To make one cotton shirt it can take up to 2700 liters of water. To put this in perspective, this is enough water for one person to drink for 2,5 years!
  • Chemical pollution: The fashion industry causes around 20% of global water pollution. That is a lot!! To turn a raw material (like cotton) into a textile and dyeing it requires more than 8000 different chemicals! When the processes are finished the waste water is often dumped, contaminating rivers and lakes. Not only causes this harm to the ecosystem but it’s also affecting the quality of drinking water. So not only does the industry take good water for textile production, but it also pollutes it. That doesn’t sound good at all. (understatement)   
  • Microplastics: Approximately 60% of all materials used by the fashion industry are made from plastic. Polyester, nylon/polyamide and spandex (elastane) are some of these fabrics you might have heard of. When you wash these clothes microfibers are released into the water. Every year about 500.000 tonnes of microfibers are released just from washing clothes. The textile industry makes up for almost 35% of the microplastics pollution in the ocean. Although there is not much research done yet (or finished) about the effects of microplastics in humans it has been killing fish and seabirds for a while. So the conclusion of my own research: Microplastics are not good news.

Exploitation of garment workers

Most garments in the world are made in Asia, some of the biggest countries in this are China, Bangladesh and India. Here it is much easier to exploit workers and pay them less than living wages, because in many of these countries there are no rules for the garment workers and if there are rules nobody is really enforcing them.

Only 2% of garment workers around the world are paid a living wage. There is a difference between a living wage and a minimum wage. The living wage represents the bare minimum that a family requires to fullfil its basic needs (food, rent, healthcare, education, etc). In most of the manufacturing countries (China, Bangladesh, India…) the minimum wage is usually only half to a fifth of the living wage. As you can see, that’s not nearly enough to pay for basic needs. Many big (fast) fashion brands claim to pay their workers minimum wage that sounds good to people who don’t know the difference between minimum wage and living wage. Now you know :)!

Workplaces are often not safe and workers are made to work 12+ hours per day, 7 days a week to meet deadlines. Basically (fast) fashion brands choose mass production and profit over human welfare. I came across this interesting fact that blew my mind (again): A research by Hall and Wiedmann found that increasing the cost of clothing made in India by an average of 20 cent per item would be enough to lift all Indian garment workers out of poverty. WOW!

It’s all about learning

Writing this post made me realise how bad some things really are. Maybe I’ll dig deeper in some of these topics, because there is so much more information and facts about this, I didn’t put it in this post because it would just be too much information in one post.

I learned a lot doing research on this and I hope you learned something too. If you are wondering how all this can be changed I plan on writing a post about this in the near future. In this I will write about what fashion brands can and must do to minimize these negative impacts, but also what consumers can do to help.

If you have any questions or comments just leave me a message on the contact page!

Some sources I used: 


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