Fast Fashion : Environment Impact

Fast Fashion’s reach is far and varied. Its negative impact on the environment continues to rise. In fact, the clothing industry is the world’s second highest pollutant. Fast Fashion thrives off people frequently buying and discarding items of clothing. It has created a market to increase those sales, but at a cost we can’t afford. Clothing consumption has increased by 400% in the last two decades, leading to a multitude of dangerous environmental issues (True Cost). One of the issues with Fast Fashion is the amount of clothing that is thrown away, sometimes only weeks after being purchased. America generates 11 million tons of textile waste each year (True Cost). Out of the clothing that is donated each year to charities, such as Salvation Army, only 20% can be re-used (Newsweek). So, what happens to the rest of the clothes? They are thrown into landfills, but these man-made, and chemically laden pieces of clothing are not compostable and end up emitting methane, a harmful greenhouse gas (Newsweek). 

If you’re wondering what chemicals are hiding in your clothes, the answer can only be found by going to the source of our clothing materials: genetically modified cotton. “Cotton production is now responsible for 18% of worldwide pesticide use and 25% of total insecticide use” (True Cost). The use of chemicals on cotton is like a disease for the earth. In landfills which aren’t properly sealed, the chemicals seep into the earth and our sources of water. These chemicals affect the air we breathe, the soil on which we build our lives, the water which sustains life, and the skin of those who wear the clothing. In Uzbekistan, one of the world’s biggest cotton producers, the amount of pesticides and chemicals used to produce and manipulate cotton has caused 350,000 deaths and many more hospitalizations among cotton farmers. These pesticides are severely dangerous to people and the planet we collectively inhabit (Journal of International Affairs). 


Photo Credit: Nasa  

The amount of natural resources required to keep fast fashion going at its astronomical pace causes severe damage to our earth. The manufacturing of one shirt alone requires 2700 liters of water, and areas where clothing is produced suffer water and air pollution from the chemicals used to dye leather and other materials (Journal of International Affairs). The Aral Sea, located in Uzbekistan, used to be the fourth largest sea in the world, but now it’s dried up because of the amount of water needed to sustain Fast Fashion’s unhealthy obsession with genetically modified, mass produced, unsustainable fibers. (Journal of International Affairs). For example, The Journal of International Affairs found that, “Conventional cotton (as opposed to organic cotton) has got to be one of the most unsustainable fibers in the world. Conventional cotton uses a huge amount of water…” for the farming and manufacturing of cotton.

Chemical waste from dying clothing is another serious issue. In Indonesia, this waste is disposed of in the Citarum River, resulting in a dangerous plethora of deadly chemicals such as mercury, lead, and arsenic (Journal of International Affairs). Water contamination impacts the inhabitants of our seas, oceans, rivers and lakes, causing a domino effect of disaster for animals and the natural environment. The Journal of International Affairs also found that the fish exposed to these chemicals develop cancer and unhealthy genetic changes. 


Photo Credit: Rob Bye

Greenhouse gases, seas drying up, chemical waste, loss of lives and the death of a planet—these real and horrible facts force us to ask this question; is fast fashion worth all of this? No. The next question we must ask ourselves, one that may seem as equally unnerving due to the scope of this issue is this; what can we do? The answer is Slow Fashion, and it is Fast Fashion’s opposite in every possible way. It is the solution to problems that should not exist. It is the key to ending child labor, forced labor, the death of garment workers, the destruction of people’s homes and lives, and saving this one planet we have for all of time. Come back next month so we can talk about Slow Fashion and how it can change everything for the better. 


Author: Sherie James 

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