We all like to look nice, and we all like to shop around and build up a variety of nice, comfy clothes that we feel good in, and can mix and match to create different looks. I know I certainly do. Having those few extra funds to nip round the shops and pick up a good bargain has a certain satisfaction to it. And slipping into something new brings that refreshing feeling that only new clothes can give you. But the other day after I’d gleefully picked up a new jumper in the sale, I started wondering just how sustainable our clothes really are. We all know about eating sustainable food, and wasting less, reusing more, recycling, green energy etc etc, but you don’t seem to hear much about sustainable clothing. Which seems mad because every single one of us uses this insanely huge industry, even if it’s only occasionally. So I’ve done a little digging, to find out what the clothing industry’s environmental footprint looks like, and how we can all be a little more informed and shop a little more sustainably.
I hate to break it to you, but what I found wasn’t very good news, which if you’re going to take this seriously could be a big problem next time you’re itching to buy that cute top, or those comfy jeans in the window of that high street retailer that you’ve been eyeing up for a while now.
The clothing industry accounts for a whopping 10% of Global Carbon Emissions… And is the second largest contributor to industrial pollution, beaten only by the oil industry… ouch. The clothing industry alone contributes to almost every kind of pollution, including carbon pollution, tonnes of waste each year, toxic gas release, plastic pollution, deforestation, water pollution, and an unflattering amount of poor working conditions across the world. But how can our clothes be that bad for the environment? Unfortunately it’s not just the clothes themselves, many of which are made with synthetic fibres which release toxic gasses like N2O, which is claimed to be a 300 times more potent greenhouse gas than C02 and accounts for 6.3% of all of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. These synthetic fibres also shed both during the day and during your wash cycle, contributing to plastic pollution in our oceans as they are washed down the drain and accounting for 85% of the man made substances that are found all along our shorelines. The hugely unsustainable part to our clothing is the life cycle that it goes through. From the materials it was made from, to the factory it was made in, to the dyes and other chemicals used on it, to the environmental costs of having it shipped across the world, to it’s short, sweet life with you, and then it’s eventual demise – usually in a landfill site not too many years after it first came into being. It’s a long process, and the whole thing is pitted with ugly environmental issues.
While on my travels through the internet hive of information I discovered Zady, an American clothing retailer daring to uncover the ugly truth behind the clothing industry, and to stand up and do it differently. And they have some interesting facts about said industry.
Did you know that 80 billion pieces of clothing are churned out every year? – And each year between 70 and 100 million trees are cut down to make synthetic fibres.
– 99.3% of the worlds cotton is produced chemically using synthetic fertilisers and pesticides which then seep into the ground, poisoning the soil and the water.
– A single synthetic garment sheds 1,900 plastic microfibers into the water supply, contributing to ocean pollution, and eventually making it’s way into our food chain.
– 85% of human made material found on shorelines is synthetic microfibers from clothing.
– Polyester production uses 60% of the worlds PET, that’s twice the amount used to produce plastic bottles.
– 1 ton of manufactured textiles requires 200 tonnes of fresh water, which then becomes waste water, polluted with chemicals and dyes.
– Greenpeace identified 11 chemicals that are hazardous to human health that are commonly used in the dying and treating of our clothes.
– Untreated polluted industrial wastewater from textile factories is often released into the surrounding environment, causing problems for fishing, farming, and in some cases, drinking.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, there are retailers out there who are changing their practises and looking for more ethical, and more environmental solutions.
And while the retailers are getting themselves sorted out, you can do your bit as an eco-aware shopper and look for eco-friendly clothes that you can add to your collection.
Here’s a few good things to look out for.
– Keep an eye out for FSC certified wool.
– Try to keep your purchases local when possible, it takes a lot to send an item of clothing around the world.
– Look for items coloured with natural dyes rather than artificial.
– Can you repair that broken item, or rework it somehow rather than throwing it away?
– Shop second-hand to make existing clothes go further, and when you’ve had enough of yours sell them on or donate them instead of throwing them out.
– A quick google search will turn up a whole heap of eco-friendly clothing retailers, try shopping more from them instead of high street names.
– Try upcycling, just because it was once a t-shirt doesn’t mean it should always be a t-shirt, if you’re tired of your t why not turn it into something else, like a cute little bag. The sky’s your limit here!
– Look for brands that are proud to be eco-friendly, then you can be too.
The clothing industry is a part of our lives that isn’t just going to go away, and let’s face it, so many us love clothes, in all their varieties, shapes, colours, cuts and designs. They’re something to be enjoyed, and something to be loved. But we need to start thinking about how they’re produced, the effects they have on our planet, and how we contribute to that.
There are sustainable solutions, we just have to change the way we think and shop.