The Environmental Footprint of Fashion
Reducing our environmental footprint has never been more important, given the current global climate crisis. There is an urgent need for consumers to adopt more sustainable practices in order to decrease the negative impacts of our lifestyle choices on the environment.
It’s no secret that the textile industry is expanding worldwide, with clothing demand increasing due to economic and population growth. However, there a number of monumental challenges associated with textile production, including the impact on the environment and the sustainability of resources. More specifically, greenhouse emissions, water and toxic chemical usage and waste production .
Clothing items are being progressively thrown out and disposed of way before their technical service life has ended, as the general outlook for the textile industry is moving towards fast and cheap fashion.
Consumers are excessively purchasing clothing, which is priced at very affordable rates, wearing each item only a few times, then throwing them out.
The era of fast fashion has meant for that the average life span of a clothing item is kept for half the amount of time, and consumers upping their purchasing of clothing by an enormous 60% .
Disposable fast fashion clothing items are, however, not a worthwhile investment when considering how many times you may wear that particular item before the quality is rapidly depleted or the popularity or hype of that fashion trend has faded.
It has been suggested that the average women only wears an item of clothing a total of 7 times, but living in our society where social media is such a predominant factor in the way we live our lives, many women wear an item once, post a photo and wouldn’t be caught dead outfit repeating .
Australia, in particular, is the second largest consumer of textiles globally . We buy 27 kilograms of textile products, including clothing, on average each year which is double the average per person worldwide . And of this 27kg, 4kg of clothing actually remains in your closet and the rest goes into landfill .
That is 23kg of textile waste of which two thirds are synthetic man-made fibres, which may never breakdown or decompose . In Australia, this results in over 500,000 tonnes of textile materials are sent to land fill each year .
Synthetic textile fibres derived from petrochemicals make up two thirds of all production . Another quarter is attributed to the production of cotton, with the growing and processing of this “thirsty crop” requiring massive amounts of water as well as intensive chemical pesticide use which contributes to pollution of waterways .
It also takes so much energy to produce and manufacture these fabrics. Annually, the global production of fabrics is estimated to equate to an unbelievable 60 billion kilograms of textile material .
Processing of fabrics in the later stages of textile manufacturing releases toxic emissions and carbon into the environment . Textile treatments including dyeing, spinning, printing, sizing, bleaching and knitting utilise fossil fuel-based energy sources to run, and thus contribute significantly to the emission of greenhouse gases .
The textile industry alone produces approximately 10% of the global carbon emissions, and almost 20% of global wastewater . The fashion and textile sector as a whole, result in an estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of C02 produced and released into the environment per annum. This processing also involves 100-150 litres of water per kilogram of textile fibre.
The water, energy and coal required to sustain this production, as you can imagine are definitely not small in amount. Please take a seat before you read the following figures and prepare to be astounded: it takes up to 9 trillion litres of water, 1,074 billion KWh of electricity and 132 million metric tons of coal to carry out the production of textiles .
In terms of water usage globally, the fashion industry is the third largest after oil and paper . To produce one cotton shirt, up to 2,700 litres of water may be used, and up to 10,000 litres of water per kilogram of raw cotton to cultivate .
Additionally, the textile wastewater produced from these finishing processes which is full of chemicals and dyestuffs is extremely hazardous, causing water pollution and posing serious risks to the environment .
These impacts are apparent across the entire supply chain, the production of crops, fibre and garments and not to mention the distribution of the finalised products .
Textile reuse causes considerably less environmental harm when compared to landfill and incineration . The reusing of textile products has even been suggested as more beneficial to the environment than the recycling of textile products, with the production process associated with transforming textile materials avoided entirely .
Reusing textiles or renting clothing, prolongs the life span of clothing items and hence, reduces the amount of textile waste that is put into landfill, saves the energy required for manufacturing and prevents the associated release of emissions and harmful byproducts.
Choosing to rent each time you attend an event is one way you can become a more conscious consumer and lessen your environmental footprint, while still remaining up to date with current fashion trends! Wear something different every time you step out, while taking action for the environment in a positive way.
At Dress for a Night we firmly believe that we all should strive to make small changes, which will have a massive impact in the long term and make a big difference in the future.
 Sandin G, Peters GM. Environmental impact of textile reuse and recycling–A review. Journal of Cleaner Production. 2018 May 20; 184: 353-65.