It’s difficult for many people to understand how their cloths can affect our planet. Every day we are faced with a barrage of tempting new clothing items and offers from the big high street shops. In front of these irresistible deals, most people won't even think twice when they buy their favourite Tee for under £5. But they can't imagine what impact their action has on the environment.
The super cheap, celebrity style colourful fashion has come to be called Fast fashion in the last years. Simply because the way these clothes are made and offered to the public, resembles the fast food industry. Yet while many will think twice about eating these tasty but very unhealthy burgers from a fast food place, they can't understand that their low cost/ fast clothes are equally bad for them and the environment. What is the problem? Well criticisms of fast fashion include its negative environmental impact, water pollution, the use of toxic chemicals and increasing levels of textile waste. Below we will mention a few of the main causes of the problem.
Vibrant colours, prints and fabric finishes are appealing features of fashion garments, but many of these are achieved with toxic chemicals. Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, after agriculture. Many of these are banned or strictly regulated in various countries because they are toxic, bio-accumulative (meaning the substance builds up in an organism faster than the organism can excrete or metabolise it), disruptive to hormones and carcinogenic.
Polyester is the most popular fabric used for fashion. But when polyester garments are washed in domestic washing machines, they shed microfibers that add to the increasing levels of plastic in our oceans. These microfibers are minute and can easily pass through sewage and wastewater treatment plants into our waterways, but because they do not biodegrade, they represent a serious threat to aquatic life. Small creatures such as plankton eat the microfibers, which then make their way up the food chain to fish and shellfish eaten by humans.
The devastating impact of toxic chemical use in agriculture, for growing cotton, is a well-known problem and these chemicals can cause from brain tumours to serious birth defects. Cotton growing requires high levels of water and pesticides to prevent crop failure, which can be problematic in developing countries that may lack sufficient investment and be at risk of drought.
Most cotton grown worldwide is genetically modified to be resistant to the bollworm pest, thereby improving yield and reducing pesticide use. But this can also lead to problems further down the line, such as the emergence of “superweeds” which are resistant to standard pesticides. They often need to be treated with more toxic pesticides that are harmful to livestock and humans.
What can we do?
There issues can easily be avoided with the use of organic cotton in the garments but unfortunately the overall use of organic cotton represents less than 1 per cent of the world’s total annual cotton crop.
Choosing an eco-friendly fabric is complex as there are pros and cons to all fibre types. Garments which are labelled as being made from natural fibres are not necessarily better than synthetic, as fibre choice is only one part of a complex picture. Fibres still have to be spun, knitted or woven, dyed, finished, sewn and transported – all of which have different environmental impacts.
Choosing organic fabrics is better than choosing non-organic fabrics in terms of the chemicals used to grow the fibres, but organic cotton still requires high amounts of water and the impact of dyeing it is higher than the impact of dyeing polyester.
Another way would be the reuse of material such as polyester. There is interest in moving towards a more circular model of textile production which reuses materials wherever possible, yet current recycling rates for textiles are very low. Despite a long-established national network of charity shops and increasing numbers of in-store recycling points in UK high-street stores, three-quarters of Britons throw away unwanted clothing, rather than donating or recycling it.
Recycled content is often best of all, as it reduces the pressure on virgin resources and tackles the growing problem of waste management.
At Eco Wear we take extra care in choosing the material for our clothes and how this material can have the minimum possible impact on the environment. That's why in our range of clothes, you will find from T-shirts made from bamboo to hoodies from organic cotton and polos from recycled polyester.
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