What better time to become more mindful of your purchases than Earth Day!? Why do we need to be more mindful of our purchases you ask? Well, for starters, the fashion industry is one of the top 5 most polluting industries in the world and responsible for around 10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, with fast fashion being the main culprit. Fast fashion is defined as garments that are made and sold cheaply so that you as the customer are enabled to buy new clothes more frequently - think of having to stay on-trend every.single.new.season. 

Let’s take the well-known brand Zara for example. The company has a rapid turnaround time of 14-21 days from inception of a piece to the final sale of the product and with its 52 micro-seasons per year ?  it churns out 450 million garments a year and 500 designs per week. Let’s face it, the ease of shopping and our consumer obsession with needing the coolest on trend styles is rapidly depleting natural resources while polluting our mother earth. BIG YIKES! Let's get into how exactly fast fashion is affecting our environment.

“As people alive today, we must consider future generations: a clean environment is a human right like any other. It is therefore part of our responsibility toward others to ensure that the world we pass on is as healthy, if not healthier, than we found it.” - Dalai Lama

Water Usage

Photo by Ivan Bandura via Unsplash

Water pollution: A deadly moat full of toxic chemicals surrounds most garment factories. Untreated toxic waste waters containing trace amounts of lead, mercury, arsenic and more are dumped haphazardly into rivers at production facilities around the world, that eventually leech back into surrounding water streams. Also, it doesn't help that the fertilizer runoff due to pesticides from cotton farms adds to the pollution leading to both premature deaths among farmers and soil degradation. The poisonous runoff not only affects sea-dwelling creatures but also those whose residence is by riverbanks. Your clothes are made in a chemical soup from fibre production, textile dyeing, bleaching and wetting process to finishing — yikes! it’s no wonder allergic reactions to clothing are becoming more common.

Water consumption: The industry is a super-soaker consumer of freshwater like the textile dyeing being the second largest polluter of water streams globally in which 2000 gallons of water are needed to make a single pair of jeans. Also cotton requires huge swaths of water, up to 20,0000 litres worth to plant, seed and grow a mere 1kg of cotton with the added backlash of contributing to drying out the land or desertification.

Waste Generation

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Photo by Hermes Rivera via Unsplash

Landfills: Our post-consumption problems including how much we toss out in the garbage bin are ridiculous with the average person sending 81 pounds of textiles to the landfill each year! Thanks to the profit-centred model of the fashion industry, it is the 8th most polluting industry in the world in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and responsible for 92 million tons or 4 percent of the world's annual solid waste.  

Our current system for producing, distributing and using clothes operates mechanically in a closed-loop and linear fashion for clothing. From initial mock-up design to wear that is used for a short period before they are easily tossed to the landfill or incinerated - can you say greenhouse gas emissions??? Ew. The new norm is that clothing is disposable and in doing so we generate textile waste at unprecedented levels -  nearly 85 percent of textiles end up in landfills!


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Photo by Johannes Plenio via Unsplash

Microfibres: Clothes are either made of (i) natural materials that are plant or animal-based such as: cotton, silk and wool or synthetic or (ii) artificial materials made from chemicals such as: polyester, rayon, acrylic and more. Around 60% of the clothing you wear contains plastic microfibres, the most popular of which are polyester, nylon and acrylic. A recently launched #WhatsInMyWash campaign from the UK calls out polyester as one of the leading causes of microplastics in oceans. When we wash our clothes, polyester sheds its fibres into the wastewater which is recycled into the larger water reservoirs including the rivers and oceans.

Check this — every time you throw your synthetic garment into the wash you have triggered the release of at least 700,000 microplastic plastic fibres trickling into our global water streams! 

Research studies conducted have confirmed a process known as bioaccumulation meaning that small aquatic organisms ingest these released microfibres who are then eaten by larger fish in the food chain  — eventually coming back to us ?  

"Washing clothes, meanwhile, releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year — the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles

Many of those fibers are polyester, a plastic found in an estimated 60% of garments. Producing polyester releases two to three times more carbon emissions than cotton, and polyester does not break down in the ocean." - World Economic Forum

Emissions: Polyester is a petrochemical-based fibre that is reliant on large amounts of fossil fuels to be manufactured — Did you know that in 2015 more than 330 million barrels of oil were used to make polyester and other manmade clothing fibres. Yikes! Let’s be honest, fast fashion companies love polyester because it’s easy to mass-manufacture at a relatively low financial cost, but it comes at a  high cost to our environment. In comparison to a cotton t-shirt, a polyester tee will release triple the amount of carbon emissions and is also non-biodegradable and can take up to 200 years for synthetic fibres to decompose depending on the conditions. So uh, buy cotton!!! 

"The human race is challenged more than ever before to demonstrate our mastery, not over nature but of ourselves." - Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

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Photo by Markus Spiske via Unsplash

Closing Thoughts

Yes, fast fashion has worsened fashion’s exploitation of labour and the environment. But there’s still hope. At Arbor Earth Day is everyday and we believe it's your small actions that have the potential for big impact. ? And best of all you can actively participate simply by adapting your lifestyle to be more eco conscious.

Every year on April 22 we celebrate Earth Day :seedling::earth_africa::deciduous_tree: to drive action towards global warming induced climate change. Becoming aware of the detrimental consequences of one of the most polluting industries in the world is only the beginning. We have to put our money where our mouth is by supporting brands that impact the triple bottom line of People, Profit and Planet and advocate for clean living and a healthy and sustainable habitat. If anything, today is a conscious reminder of how delicate our ecosystems are and how important it is to protect them. Be the CHANGE you wish to see in the world by voting with your dollar using Arbor, download for free today and see how your values align with your spending habits and make a more thoughtful purchase on your next shopping trip out. One small step from you is one huge leap for humanity so this Earth Day choose to be your own hero.