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Environment & Wildlife, World Trends

Fast Fashion is Slowing the Planet Down

July 24th 2019

We are a generation accustomed to disposability. Our tendencies to have the latest, on-trend item, and receive it instantaneously is viewed as a positive. Yet, this culture of throwaway consumerism is a damaging contributor to climate change, and is prevalent in the fast fashion industry.

Fast fashion is defined as a process where inexpensive clothing is made quickly by commercial clothing retailers in response to the latest fashion trends. The items are quickly put in the stores, quickly bought by consumers, and quickly put in the bin. But why exactly is fast fashion bad for our planet?

Recently, Censuswide conducted research for the children’s charity Barnardo’s. Research revealed that consumers were to shell out more than £700m on 11m items purchased for single-use summer holiday garments. A shocking statistic indeed.

In the UK, 300,000 tonnes of clothes end up in landfill each year. Most of our clothes are manufactured using synthetic materials like viscose, polyester and nylon, which are created from a type of plastic. When washed, these fabrics shed microfibres into the water, which filters into rivers and oceans. These microfibres pollute our environment and are consequently ingested by wildlife, infiltrating the food chain.

The Citarum River, located in Indonesia, is the world’s most polluted river.

Every day, no less than 20,000 tons of waste and 340,000 tons of wastewater, mostly from 2,000 textile factories, are disposed into the river. The river’s surface is covered by waste, rubbish and dead animal carcases. The water itself is coloured due to toxic chemicals. Almost 60% of fish are gone. Scientists have tested these waters, revealing that mercury, cadmium, lead and arsenic are floating inside. Exposure to these chemicals can cause detrimental health issues, such as neurological problems. What’s worse, millions of people are exposed to this large waterway.

Even cotton- a natural fibre- exhausts the planets natural resources. Cotton is extremely unsustainable because of its reliance on water and chemicals. A pair of jeans takes 20,000 litres of water before it’s put on the shop floor. Raw materials used to produce clothes need land and water, or removing of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide is released throughout the clothing supply chain, and most chemical dyes and finishes may be toxic.

But fast fashion isn’t just causing distress to our planet- it’s also been a host for modern slavery. According to greenamerica.org;

“fast-fashion giants H&M and Forever 21 receive new garment shipments every day. Topshop features 400 new styles every week, while Zara releases 20,000 designs annually.”

With accelerated labour demands, some manufacturers subject workers to physical abuse, sexual harassment, poor work conditions, and forced overtime. These vicious and degrading aspects of everyday working life have created an environment where intimidation and terror are used to achieve higher production demands.

These facts were exposed in Global Labour Justices’ 2018 report, where 540 workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka came forward to reveal their reality, describing incidents involving threats and violent physical abuse. Many women have experienced gender-based violence, describing incidents where they have been beaten and kicked to the floor due to not meeting production targets. Working in a pressurised environment where there are high demands and low-income results in severe exploitation.

So what can we do to help? And how can we be more sustainable when packing and purchasing summer clothing for our travels? After all, we want to do as much as we can to avoid being a part of the 11 million people spending £700m this summer on clothing they will only wear once and then throw away…

  • Research – Check how sustainable the brands you buy from are, by using the goodonyou.eco clothing directory. This intensive clothing directory details how sustainable a brand is, with detailed descriptions on materials used, whether the brand has a sufficient carbon footprint, and how friendly the production of their items is toward the planet, people and animals.
  • Be a Minimalist – The essence of minimalism is to value experience over material items. Minimalist packing avoids paying for oversized luggage, saves money and is a greener option. It means you will be packing items that you will definitely use. Taking less luggage, and fewer possessions in your luggage, means the aeroplane (or car, or train) is lighter and more efficient.
  • Buy Locally – Buying from local entrepreneurs shortens the supply chain, reducing transportation energy costs and use of unnecessary packaging.
  • Recycle – If you want to get rid of your summer clothing, remember to do it properly by recycling. Make sure to check with your local council whether they collect clothing and textiles to be recycled. Details are usually found on their website.

When you place textiles in the general waste bin, you’re essentially paying for the clothing twice:

  1. When you buy them;
  2. When you bin them: the local council has to pay to dispose of your textiles – and that money comes from your council tax.

So make sure you get rid of old clothing mindfully! Don’t be blasé, otherwise it costs our local authorities millions in taxes!

You can find your nearest clothing and textile bank, using the Recycling Locator tool.

  • Donate! – Don’t throw your clothing away! Send them off to a local charity shop. If you’re struggling to source a local charity shop, take your items to retailers such as Marks and Spencers or H&M, where they have “Shwop” boxes you can put old clothing in.
  • Purchase better materials – When buying new clothes, try your best to purchase garments of higher quality that will last longer, and avoid clothing that contains plastic materials. Fabrics such as linen, hemp, silk, or even bamboo are much more sustainable. All of these materials are absorbent and will maintain even body temperature throughout all weather conditions, making them perfect for travelling.
  • Wash at a lower temperature – Make your clothes last longer by washing in lower temperatures. Try switching to a 30 degree wash, and hang clothes out to dry rather than tumble drying them.
  • Up-cycle! – Turn old threads into new ones, and repair clothing- either yourself or by a tailor- instead of slinging them into the rubbish bin.
  • Swap your clothes – If you’re in need of a fresh wardrobe without spending money, then contemplate attending, or possibly hosting a swapping event. Clothes swapping, involves each person bringing old items to trade for new ones. This is a form of recycling made fun.

Article by WorkingAbroad Blog Writer Lucy Wooding

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Blog articles about our volunteer projects, the wider world and from volunteers in the field are shared here for everyone to get inspired and learn more about wildlife conservation topics, volunteering abroad and much more.