In this article, we’ve listed five of the most significant fast fashion problems that illustrate why brands and consumers should take a more conscious approach to their purchasing habits – sooner rather than later.
1. Landfills Choke on Textile Waste
The fast fashion industry is now producing more garments than ever before to meet the impossibly high-consumption model they've created. From the usual norm of releasing collections for two international fashion seasons – spring/summer and fall/winter – some brands now introduce micro seasons weekly, creating 50 to 100 micro seasons per year.
Due to seemingly endless trends, the ease of accessibility, and the incredibly cheap prices, the average consumer is now shopping for 60% more clothes than they did in the year 2000, but only keeping each item for half as long. The 2015 documentary film, The True Cost, suggests that the world is now consuming over 80 billion new pieces of clothing each year – a whopping 400% increase from 20 years ago.
At this point, we can say that clothes are almost disposable. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the equivalent of one garbage truck packed with clothes is dumped in landfills or burned every second. That's 85% of the fast fashion industry's production going to waste every year.
What's worse is that discarded clothes made of synthetic microplastic materials are non-biodegradable, meaning they'll be sitting in landfills with no signs of decay for over 200 years.
2. Excessive Water Consumption Depleting Natural Resources
One of the most crucial aspects that many individuals fail to address when talking about fast fashion problems is how it affects a vital resource that's already scarce — our planet’s water supply.
Next to agriculture, the textile industry holds the spot for the second-highest water consumption worldwide, accounting for 93 billion cubic meters of water consumption every year. That’s enough water to quench the thirst of millions of people.
Cotton is the most widely used natural fibre, making up 33% of all fibres used in clothing production today. Unfortunately, it's an extremely thirsty crop. Because of this, magnificent bodies of water, such as the Aral Sea of Uzbekistan (where cotton farming is prevalent), have run dry. Just imagine, it takes 2,700 litres of water to make a single cotton shirt. That's more than enough to give one person at least eight glasses of water every day to drink for over three years.
3. Marine and Water Pollution Caused by Microplastics and Textile Dyes
Marine pollution is one of the most appalling fast fashion environmental impacts. Every year 500,000 tons of microfibers and microplastics – or 50 billion plastic bottles – are released into the oceans from washing clothes made from synthetic materials, such as polyester, nylon, or acrylic.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), at least 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year and contribute to 80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. At least 31% of this is from the textile industry. Non-biodegradable plastic debris floating in the ocean endangers the lives of precious marine species who get trapped in them or mistake them for food.
But the transgressions of the fast fashion industry against our waters don't end there. The textile industry is also one of the most notorious contributors to industrial water pollution, with 20% of the world's wastewater traced directly to textile dyeing and treatment processes. Untreated wastewater from garment factories is disposed of into freshwater resources, contaminating our water supply with heavy metals and toxins from sulphur, naphthol, vat dyes, nitrates, acetic acid, and soap.
Exposure to chemical-laden water causes detrimental effects to plants and animals, compromising biodiversity. In humans, these toxic chemicals have been linked to cancer, gastrointestinal issues, and skin diseases.
4. Carbon Emissions Contribute to Climate Change
The textile and garment industry is responsible for at least 10% of carbon emissions in the world. They rank second to the oil industry and have higher emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined.
The energy-intensive textile production, transportation, and cotton farming processes release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, continuously aggravating our planet's dire predicament due to climate change. Additionally, polyester, which can be found in 60% of all garments today, is produced using fossil fuels, with carbon emissions three times worse than cotton. What's worse is that these cheap synthetic fibres also emit N2O, a gas 300 times more vicious than CO2.
5. Child Labour and Inhumane Working Conditions
Perhaps one of, if not the most atrocious of all fast fashion ethical issues is a brands’ preference to mass-produce their products in the poorest parts of the world, where the marginalized are unfortunately exploited for cheap labour.
Almost 97% of clothes you can buy in retail stores today are made overseas in Asian countries, like India, Bangladesh, China, and the Philippines, where labour laws and human rights protection are close to non-existent.
Workers from desperately impoverished families, primarily women and underage girls, are expected to work at least 14 to 16 hours a day –even longer during peak seasons like the holidays – and are usually paid $50 monthly, barely sufficient to cover the basic cost of living.
The 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy, which killed over a thousand garment factory workers, exposed the hazardous working conditions in sweatshops, which are prone to collapsing, catching fire, injuries, and other dangerous incidents. Additionally, employees work extensive hours handling and breathing in toxic substances and materials without any protective gear in buildings with little to no ventilation. Physical and verbal abuses are also a common occurrence in these factories.
Take One Conscious Step Closer to Change
Despite the bleakness of these fast fashion problems, there are still ways to create a ripple effect of positive change together as a community.
Driven with a desire to Create Clean, BEDI provides you with the opportunity to Wear a Better Tomorrow.
Our goal is to help make your shift to slow fashion as smooth as possible. Our utilitarian collection exudes a timeless style that transcends trends – it’s everlasting. Each piece is handmade with love in Montreal, Canada, using landfilled-destined materials and plant-based fabrics, delivering a premium quality that Lasts Beyond You.