The Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion

Buying clothes has never been so convenient. Whether you’re ordering online or buying in-store, finding your next fashion fix is easy and cheap. We now have five times more clothes than our grandparents ever had, so there’s an outfit for every occasion.

It’s almost too good to be true..?

Yep. Fast fashion comes at a huge cost, as it’s accountable for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions and is the second-biggest consumer of water, not to mention the inhumane working conditions of garment workers.

Let’s take a deep dive into fast fashion and find out what kind of environmental impact it really has.

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is a term used to describe clothing that is produced cheaply, replicating the latest trends from the catwalk. 80 million garments are produced every year, but only 20-30% of women’s wardrobes are actually worn.

The quality of fast fashion is poor and as a result of this, the clothing falls apart or fades away, which means it finds its way into landfills. The average time we wear a piece of clothing before it’s thrown away is just 7 times. That’s like wearing it for one week straight and never touching it again.

Some of the biggest fast fashion brands include Zara, H&M, Primark, and New Look, who take runway trends and mass-produce copies at low prices. But this price is only low for the consumer, and not for our environment.

Water Consumption and Pollution

The planet already has a low water supply, with predictions for water shortages in the next few years, but the fashion industry makes up one-tenth of the water used industrially.

This water is used for dyeing materials and processing the pieces. It takes between 10,000-20,000 litres of water to produce just one kilogram of cotton. This is an excessive amount when we consider that the average household in Britain uses 349 litres of water a day.

But water shortage isn’t the only problem, as water pollution is also a potent part of the industry. Untreated toxic wastewaters, like lead and mercury from the textile factories, contaminate the rivers of the countries where many of these garments are made. Not only are they harmful to the wildlife but it also affects the health of the people who live there. And it doesn’t stop there. These toxic wastewaters eventually reach the oceans and are then naturally transported globally.

Overconsumption and Wastage

With constant new collections and trends available at affordable prices, consumers are encouraged to buy more frequently. As mentioned, fast fashion pieces tend to be of poorer quality and because of this, garments either end up in landfills, or are incinerated. Most of our clothing is made from synthetic materials, which can take 200 years to decompose.

Only 15% of unwanted clothing is recycled or donated, with most families in the Western part of the world disposing on average 30kg of clothing every year. This poses a threat to people who live in the radius of these landfills, with toxic fumes polluting the air when the clothes are incinerated.

Plastic Microfibers

Synthetic materials, like polyester and acrylic, produce plastic microfibers when we wash them, which then find their way into our oceans. This microplastic, which takes a long time to decompose, releases harmful substances affecting our marine life as they digest the microfibers. There have been studies to suggest that a single person can release 300 million polyester microfibers into the environment washing their clothes every single year.

What Can We Do About It?

The solution to fast fashion is at the hands of the consumer. The demand for fast fashion garments gives brands a reason to continue producing excessive clothing. But there is a way we can overcome this.

Slow fashion, as you can imagine, is the opposite of fast fashion. It protests excessive production and consumption and instead strives to take responsibility for people, animals and the planet. This comes in the form of sustainable fashion brands, but there are plenty of other ways too.

Buying second-hand or renting clothes is a positive approach to shopping for clothes, either buying from vintage and charity shops or from online marketplaces like Depop and Vinted. This gives you the opportunity to repurpose the clothes that are already out there, so they don’t go to landfills.

If you are going to buy brand new, then shop for fabrics that need less water consumption, like linen, and only wash your clothes when you need to, and even then, do it at a lower temperature. Overall, it’s good to buy fewer pieces that are of better quality, so they don’t need replacing.

Download Frecycle

If you do need to get rid of your clothes, and they aren’t fit for donation, then why not recycle them? Download Frecycle today to recycle your unwanted clothing so it can be sent to the correct recycling facilities and avoid landfills. Let’s reduce, reuse, and recycle together.

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