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CLOTHING & POLLUTION

Reference: https://www.theconsciouschallenge.org/ecologicalfootprintbibleoverview/clothing-pollution

Have you ever thought about what your clothes are made of? About who makes your
clothes, or what happens after you throw them away? The truth about the fashion industry
is actually pretty ugly.

The fashion industry is being pointed out as one of the main sources of pollution in the
World. Materials, processes, a changing and non-traceable value chain, added to our own
consumption behaviour are at the origin of a massive problem.

In the past decades, garments have become a disposable item in our closets: the quality of
the clothes we buy has decreased, we have lost the skills and we lack the time to mend
damaged garments and brands have convinced us that we need to buy into new trends
every season.

According to some statistics, the world’s textile consumption was at 95.6 million tons in
2015.

62.1% of which were oil-based synthetic fibres like polyester, 25.2% cellulosic and protein-
based fibres like cotton, 6.4% wood-based cellulose fibres, 1.2% wool and 1.5% other
natural fibres.

It is well known that the textile industry is a large consumer of water, energy and chemicals
required to produce fabric at several different stages of production.
In this Our Changing Climate environmental video essay, I look at the environmental
impact of fast fashion. Specifically, I look at how fast fashion impacts climate change
through the production process of polyester and post-consumption through waste. As a
result, stores like H&M, Uniqlo, and Zara have huge carbon footprints and negatively affect
the environment.
To understand where pollution happens, its good to first look at the apparel system and
what are the life cycle stages:

 The Fiber Production stage covers the extraction and processing of fibers.
Transportation from raw material extraction location and between the processing and
the yarn preparation stage was also included.
 Yarn Preparation includes the spinning of yarn from both filament and staple fibers.
Different spinning techniques (wet spinning and cotton spinning) were taken into
consideration, as were potential losses incurred from these processes. Transportation
from the yarn preparation to fabric preparation stage is also included.
 Fabric Preparation corresponds to knitting and weaving yarn into fabric. Two different
knitting techniques (circular and flat) were taken into consideration, as were losses
incurred from these processes. Transportation from the fabric preparation to the dyeing
and finishing stage is included here.
 The combined Dyeing and Finishing steps include bleaching and dyeing as well as
fabric finishing. Transportation between dyeing and finishing to assembly is accounted
for.
 Assembly refers to the cutting and sewing of fabric into apparel products. Potential
losses incurred from these processes are accounted for.
 Distribution covers transportation from assembly location to retail stores, but not
between retail stores and end-users.
 End of life processes involve the collection and management of apparel products at
the end of their useful life (incineration and landfilling). Transportation to incineration
and landfills is also accounted for.
Water Pollution
In most of the countries in which garments are produced, untreated toxic wastewaters f rom
textiles factories are dumped directly into the rivers.

Wastewater contains toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, among others.
These are extremely harmful for the aquatic life and the health of the millions people living
by those rivers banks. The contamination also reaches the sea and eventually spreads
around the globe.

Another major source of water contamination is the use of fertilizers for cotton production,
which heavily pollutes runoff waters and evaporation waters.

This all said, the fashion industry's upstream supply chain is not solely responsible for its
problematic relationship with water. The impact of people washing clothes at home is
equally important: 40% of domestic water footprints stem from laundry, a significant
proportion of which comes from washing clothes by hand in the developing world.

Laundry detergents, generally ignored in the water pollution discussion, add yet another
dimension: 16% of the Danube's phosphate loads stem from detergents, causing the EU to
take first legislative steps for a total ban on phosphates in detergents.
The fashion week tents have been packed up and the models sent home until the next
collection debuts, but one deeply entrenched industry trend shows no sign of stopping:
Fast fashion, which has become one of the biggest sources of pollution in the world.
According to a recent report, the textile industry emits more greenhouse gas emissions
than international shipping and aviation combined. And the amount of waste the industry
generates, as well as how much water and resources it uses, is increasing.
Marine pollution
Ahead of World Environment Day on June 5, themed “Beat Plastic Pollution,” it’s worth
remembering that synthetic microfiber pollution is washing up in our oceans at alarming
rates. Around 100,000 marine animals are killed each year by plastic waste, including
microfibers.

Every time we wash a synthetic garment (polyester,nylon, etc), about 1,900 individual
microfibers are released into the water, making their way into our oceans. Scientists have
discovered that small aquatic organisms ingest those microfibers. These are then eaten by
small fish which are later eaten by bigger fish, introducing plastic in our food chain.
Most of us wear synthetic fabrics like polyester every day. Our dress shirts, yoga pants,
fleeces, and even underwear are all increasingly made of synthetic materials -- plastic, in
fact. But these synthetic fabrics, from which 60% of all clothing on earth is made, have a
big hidden problem: when they’re washed, they release tiny plastic bits -- called microfibers
-- that flow down our drains, through water treatment plants, and out into our rivers, lakes
and oceans by the billions.
Waste
A recent study by the Ellen McArthur Foundation found that one garbage truck of textiles is
wasted every second. And the Copenhagen Fashion Summit reported that fashion is
responsible for 92 million tons of solid waste dumped in landfills each year.

Clothing has clearly become disposable. As a result, we generate more and more textile
waste. A family in the western world throws away an average of 30 kg of clothing each
year. Only 15% is recycled or donated, and the rest goes directly to the landfill or is
incinerated.

Synthetic fibers, such as polyester, are plastic fibers, therefore non-biodegradable and can
take up to 200 years to decompose. Synthetic fibers are used in 72% of our clothing.

Some of the pollutants that end up in landfills include;

 Fibre lint, fibre scraps, trimmings and packaging waste produced in the fibre
preparation, slashing/sizing, weaving, knitting and tufting processes
 Vegetable matter, waxes, dirt, and wool produced in wool fabrication processes
 Paper and paper sheets, scrap metals, oily rags general domestic waste used and
produced in domestic textile workshops
 Wasted and retained sludge in waste water treatment
 Flock, chemical and dye containers used in dyeing and finishing of woven fabrics and
so on
 When solid waste pollution ends up in landfills, over time, it begins to let off methane
into the environment which directly contributes towards global warming.

When solid waste pollution ends up in water bodies, it can pollute water bodies as well as
kill marine life. This directly impacts animals as well as human beings who reside in the
region.

Many love buying new clothes, but the latest trends might not always last long in your
wardrobe. Those clothes can take decades to break down in landfill. So now some
environmental groups say we should be buying better quality clothes and committing to
them for longer.
Fabric fragments shed from cheap, disposable clothes, often during washing, are clogging
the seas around Britain, scientists have warned.
Resources
The fashion industry is a major water consumer.

Huge quantity of fresh water are used for the dyeing and finishing process for all of our
clothes. As reference, it can take up to 200 tons of fresh water per ton of dyed fabric.

Also, cotton needs A LOT of water to grow (and heat), but is usually cultivated in warm and
dry areas. Up to 20,000 liters of water are needed to produce just 1kg of cotton. This
generates tremendous pressure on this precious resource, already scarce, and has
dramatic ecological consequences such as the desertification of the Aral Sea, where cotton
production has entirely drained the water (see pictures above).

The soil is a fundamental element of our ecosystem. We need healthy soil for food
production but also to absorb CO2. The massive, global degradation of soil is one of the
main environmental issues our planet is currently facing. It presents a major threat to
global food security and also contributes to global warming.

The fashion industry plays a major part in degrading soil in different ways: overgrazing of
pastures through cashmere goats and sheep raised for their wool; degradation of the soil
due to massive use of chemicals to grow cotton; deforestation caused by wood-based
fibers like rayon.

Rainforest Destruction
Every year, thousands of hectares of endangered and ancient forests are cut down and
replaced by plantations of trees used to make wood-based fabrics such as rayon, viscose,
and modal.

This loss of forests is threatening the ecosystem and indigenous communities, as in


Indonesia where large-scale deforestation of the rainforests has taken place over the past
decade.

Air pollution
Gaseous emissions in the textile industry have been sighted as the second largest pollution
problem in the industry after water pollution especially since most processes in textile
production produce atmospheric emissions.
Generally, there’s very little data on air emissions in the textile industry since it is difficult to
sample, test and quantify air pollution in audits. However, the concern is quite widespread
because the effects are felt by populations that live and work near textile industries.

Air pollutants produced by the textile industry include: Nitrous oxides and sulphur dioxide
produced in the energy production stages; Volatile organic components (VOCs) produced
in coating, curing, drying, waste water treatment and chemical storage; Partic ulates
produced in cotton handling activities, and; Aniline vapours, carrier Hydrogen sulphide,
chlorine and chlorine dioxide produced in dyeing and bleaching stages and so on.

Gas Emissions
The carbon footprint of a garment largely depends on the material. While synthetic fibers
like polyester have less impact on water and land than grown materials like cotton, they
emit more greenhouse gasses per kilogram. A polyester shirt has more than double the
carbon footprint of a cotton shirt (5.5 kg vs. 2.1 kg, or 12.1 pounds vs 4.6 pounds).
Polyester production for textiles released about 706 billion kg (1.5 trillion pounds) of
greenhouse gases in 2015, the equivalent of 185 coal-fired power plants' annual
emissions.

The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions.

The global fashion industry is generating a lot of greenhouse gases due to the energy used
during its production, manufacturing, and transportation of the millions garments purchased
each year.

Synthetic fibers (polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc.), used in the majority of our clothes, are
made from fossil fuel, making production much more energy-intensive than with natural
fibers.

Most of our clothes are produced in China, Bangladesh, or India, countries essentially
powered by coal. This is the dirtiest type of energy in terms of carbon emissions.

Using the year 2016 as baseline, the apparel industry’s pollution impacts were compared to
what they were in 2005 and in 2010. From there, 2016 figures were assessed against 2020
and 2030 projections (based on available data and assumptions in relation to economic
growth predictions, as described in the methodological considerations section).

Sixty percent of all clothing is thrown out within a year of being manufactured, and that
adds up to a lot of climate-changing pollution. It doesn't have to be this way, here's a look
at the fashion brands and clothing companies trying to change the industry.
The apparel industry’s production impacts on climate change increased 35% between 2005
and 2016 and are projected to steadily rise in 2020 and 2030, if a business-as-usual
scenario prevails. This increase reflects increasing consumption per capita while global
population rises, along with a shift in material use towards more synthetics and less natural
fiber, cotton and cellulosic.

This trend would also affect all pollution indicators, from climate change to freshwater
withdrawal, resource depletion, ecosystem quality and human health. This is manifest in
the projected 49% increase from baseline (2016) in terms of projected climate change
impacts for 2030, equally affecting resource depletion (49%) and human health indicators
(47%).

The study also highlights that, as synthetics are expected to overtake cotton in the apparel
fiber market, the degradation in ecosystems quality (111% in 2020 and 136% in 2030) and
freshwater withdrawal (112% in 2020 and 139% in 2030) is likely to be more moderate.

SOLUTIONS
It’s up to us as consumers to trigger change by voting with our wallets. The average
number of clothing collections in Europe more than doubled between 2000 and 2011: we
are buying more clothes and wearing them less.

Our fast-fashion habit is expensive. More than US$500 billion in value is lost every year
due to under-utilized clothes and lack of recycling. We as consumers need to educate
ourselves about Circular fashion: we need to buy less clothing and when we do, we need to
make sure that is more sustainable and higher quality. We also need to demand
transparent sourcing.

The quest for alternative fiber sources – raw, natural, synthetic, renewable or recycled – is
accelerating. The variety of available natural fiber species is vast, however, the
proliferation of cotton has caused a lag in technological investments and industrial
developments needed to improve their suitability for the apparel industry. Recent industrial
research results are promising, and are bound to introduce new options.
Improvements in dye and laundry technologies, in industry as well as at home, are showing
results; clothes (eg Levi's Water<Less) as well as washing machines with a low water
and/or detergent footprint have already entered the market. With rising water and electricity
bills, the rhythm of development and innovation for industry equipment and home
appliances will no doubt increase further.

The first step is for companies to measure their environmental impacts and understand
areas where they can improve. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index lets
companies measure the environmental, social and labor impacts of their products and
services, and work is being done on Science Based Targets guidance for the apparel
industry.

The next step is to recognize that companies must do more than improve efficiency to
sustainably meet demand in the years ahead. They must produce less stuff. Some
companies have already acknowledged this and are testing new models, though these
examples are still the exception rather than the rule. Patagonia’s Worn Wear program
offers a service to fix old clothes rather than only sell new ones. Companies like Mud
Jeans, Rent the Runway and Gwynnie Bee are experimenting with rental models. Some
companies, such as Zady’s, are calling for a return to “slow fashion,” promoting it as a key
component to their business model.

More sustainable solutions:


A brief deconstruction of the concept of minimalism. Specifically, I look at how certain
minimalists have increasingly used minimalism as an aesthetic choice over recent years.
Ultimately, minimalism needs to be renegotiated as a pro-environment and anti-
consumption mindset.
Natsai Audrey Chieza is a designer on a mission -- to reduce pollution in the fashion
industry while creating amazing new things to wear. In her lab, she noticed that the
bacteria Streptomyces coelicolor makes a striking red-purple pigment, and now she's using
it to develop bold, color-fast fabric dye that cuts down on water waste and chemical runoff,
compared with traditional dyes. And she isn't alone in using synthetic biology to redefine
our material future; think -- "leather" made from mushrooms and superstrong yarn made
from spider-silk protein. We're not going to build the future with fossil fuels, Chieza says.
We're going to build it with biology.
Every year we throw away 30 kg of clothes, and the textile industry is one of the world’s top
5 polluters. So, how can we make the fashion industry more sustainable? It’s easy, claims
social scientist and Creative Director Fredrik Wikholm, we just need ethics, environment
and economics to be buddies. With his new innovation “The Rag Bag” Fredrik challenges
the business to take action now, before it’s too late. It was the creative mindset and will to
change, rather than skills in textile design that brought Fredrik Wikholm and his snowboard
collective to start up a fashion brand that focused on sustainability. Now he’s taking
recycling to the next level with an open-source innovation institute to pave ways for the
fashion industry to make more sustainable choices.
What happens to the clothes we don't buy? You might think that last season's coats,
trousers and turtlenecks end up being put to use, but most of it (nearly 13 million tons each
year in the United States alone) ends up in landfills. Fashion has a waste problem, and
Amit Kalra wants to fix it. He shares some creative ways the industry can evolve to be
more conscientious about the environment -- and gain a competitive advantage at the
same time.
What do you do regarding making more sustainable clothing choices? By tagging us
with #theconsciouschallenge you can share your ideas!

Want to contribute to our Ecological Footprint Bible? Submit us your scientific articles! Mail
us at info@theconsciouschallenge.org

Sources:

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CLOTHINGJUNE 7, 2019