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I aim to summarise these impacts into bite size chunks so they’re manageable (fingers crossed I manage this!)
There are three main ways the fashion industry impacts our environment;1. Toxic chemical production
The very nature of the fashion industry means its a very highly polluting industry and a large proportion of manufacturing operates in areas with less regulation. The biggest issue of pollution of rivers that results in depleting oxygen levels which leads to fish dying and therefore the damaging affect on an important human food source. Toxic chemicals discharged from factories dyeing and treating fabrics pollute water, soil and air and these chemicals end up in food supplies. Air pollution from fumes released directly from factory chimneys as well as from flying materials and products around the world.2. Carbon usage contributing to climate change
The whole life cycle of our clothing impacts carbon emissions all the way from the production of raw materials to garment disposal. The fashion industry emits 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 per year.
We use carbon in manufacturing fabrics and producing garments, transporting products and materials around the world, when we use our clothes in washing, drying and ironing, and then when we dispose of our clothes in landfill they emit CO2 as they slowly break down.
Deforestation is also a major problem. Forests help to slow down the rate of climate change, plants and trees absorb CO2 and store carbon - forests are a key weapon in fighting climate change. When we cut trees down to make space for crop or cattle farming we erase natural habitats, damage soil quality and decrease biodiversity.
63% of our clothes are made from synthetic fibres which are all plastics made from fossil fuels.3. Water usage
In 2015 29% of the world’s population lacked safe drinking water. Depleting water levels are expected to displace between 24-700 million people in the next ten years. This is a horrifying statistic, especially given many of us have no idea we’re in a water crisis! And considering 90% of the world’s natural disasters are water related it’s a problem far bigger than thirst.
Textile production uses approximately 93 billion cubic metres of water per year. 30/40% of fashion is cotton. It takes up to 10000 litres of water to produce enough cotton to make six t-shirts. 80% of organic cotton is rain-fed and use of pesticides is prohibited so there’s no risk of toxic chemicals getting into water supplies.
When we look at how the fashion industry impacts our planet, the specific Sustainable Development Goals we refer to are;
Goal 12 : Responsible Consumption and Production
Goal 13 : Climate Action
Goal 14 : Life Below Water
Goal 15 : Life on Land
When we’re out shopping for a new outfit we may not stop to think about how that outfit contributed to air pollution, toxic chemical pollution or how many thousands of litres of water were used in its manufacture. The fashion industry does a great job of keeping this information from us, that’s why it is a billion dollar industry. Many of the most damaging environmental impacts of our clothes occur far down the supply chain where brands have the least amount of visibility. For this reason we need transparency from the brands we buy from. As consumers we deserve to know the environmental performance of the brands supply chain. We want to trust that a brand is able to oversee every process in their supply chain. We need the information in order to make informed decisions about our purchases.
What is a supply chain? (Graphic Credit: Fashion Revolution)
We want to know how our buying decisions impact the health of our planet, but it’s fair to say most fashion brands have three main priorities when designing and manufacturing their products;
It should be a priority that the product is environmentally responsible, unfortunately at the moment it isn't. Until this is a core requirement we won’t see the changes we need to see. For brands like Dinki Human this requirement is an essential one. Responsible and sustainable manufacture is a core part of our ethos, it’s part of who we are.
In the last of this series (part 4) I will cover why our current rate of clothing consumption is unsustainable and most importantly how we can make things better!