Fast fashion is destroying the planet with disastrous economic, social, and environmental impacts that leading players in the industry don't want you to know.
This global phenomenon has been rapidly growing over the past 20 years but remains very damaging to people, animals, ecosystems, and the environment.
Fast fashion is responsible for the overconsumption of cheap clothing that creates enormous amounts of waste, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Here is how fast fashion is destroying the planet and many shocking facts that you need to know.
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Fast fashion and textile waste
Fast fashion creates large amounts of textile waste to meet the ever-increasing consumer demand for new trendy clothes at lower prices.
Fast-fashion giants push disposable and cheap clothing to high-street stores every week. Huge clothing companies create more than 1 million garments every day, according to Greenpeace.
The rise of influencer marketing, social media, and eCommerce allowed online retailers to grow massively. Fashion Nova is one of the most iconic examples of online retail success.
Its CEO, Richard Saghian, leveraged the popularity of visual platforms like Instagram to develop relationships and turn fast fashion into ultra-fast fashion, producing 600 new styles every week, according to WWD.
As exposed in The True Cost documentary film, the world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. It represents 400% more than the amount we consumed just two decades ago.
The overproduction and overconsumption of cheap clothing is destroying the planet and endangering people and animals living on it.
The average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing every year, according to Euromonitor.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reveals that more than 16.9 million tons of used textile wastes are generated every year in the United States alone.
That number is ten times bigger than in 1960 and has doubled over the last 20 years. The EPA also estimates that textile waste occupies 6.3% of all landfill space.
Unfortunately, the United States only recycled 15.2% of all textiles in 2017. It's possible to recycle up to 95% of all textiles that end up in landfills every year, according to the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles (SMART) Association.
Globally, most clothes and other textiles end up in landfills to decompose or be incinerated. Less than 1% of all textile waste is recycled to make new clothing, as reported by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Textile waste generated by fast fashion releases toxic gases and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It contributes to global warming, air, land, and water pollution.
More than 80% of all clothing produced ends up in landfills to decompose or be incinerated globally, as reported by the Global Fashion Agenda.
During decomposition or when burning, clothing emits large quantities of carbon and toxic gases into the Earth's atmosphere, contributing massively to pollution and global warming.
Fast fashion causes used clothing to pile up in landfills at an alarming rate. 20% of global waste production comes from the textile and apparel sectors, as reported by Close the Loop.
Fast fashion and toxic chemicals
The massive use of hazardous chemicals for cheap clothing production and fast fashion endangers human health and ecosystems and destroys the planet.
Cotton is the most used natural fiber in the global fast fashion industry. But cotton farming requires tons of chemicals that pollute nearby environments.
The mass production of conventional cotton is very wasteful and toxic. And 30.3 million tons of cotton are produced each year globally, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Cotton farming utilizes 4% of worldwide of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers, 16% of all insecticides, and 7% of all herbicides, as reported by the Global Fashion Agenda.
Up to 3 kilograms of chemicals are required to produce 1 kilogram of raw cotton fibers, as reported by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Fast fashion requires chemical-intensive processes such as cotton farming, textile washing, bleaching, garment dying, finishing, and treatment. It uses about 8,000 synthetic chemicals, as reported by The Guardian.
Fast fashion and water pollution
According to the World Bank, fast fashion is the second-largest polluter of clean water after agriculture globally. The fashion industry accounts for 17-20% of the world's wastewater.
Apparel and textile products require a total of 100 billion cubic meters of water annually for farming and manufacturing processes, as reported by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
Industrial water pollution mainly comes from fabric manufacturing processes such as washing, bleaching, dyeing, finishing, and treatment.
Unfortunately, the United Nations reports that only 20% of globally produced wastewater receives proper treatment.
Fast fashion is very damaging to the environment due to ever-increasing water pollution. McKinsey estimated in 2016 that carbon emissions will rise by 77%, and water consumption by 20% from 2015 to 2025.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), 20,000 liters of water are needed to produce one kilogram of cotton, the equivalent of one T-shirt and one pair of jeans.
Fast fashion and plastic pollution
The fast fashion industry is a leading cause of global plastic pollution. And plastic pollution has a disastrous impact on the environment, on people and animals.
Fast fashion widely uses synthetic textiles such as polyester, nylon and acrylic to produce cheap clothes. Polyester is the most used fabric in the fast fashion industry. Global polyester fiber production reached 55 million tons in 2018, as reported by Oerlikon.
About 60% of today's clothing contains polyester, as reported by Greenpeace. Unfortunately, polyester contributes to plastic waste and microfiber pollution.
Half a million tons of plastic microfibers are dumped into the ocean every year, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. Plastic waste is deceptive for wildlife, who mistake it for food.
People working in garment factories in the fast fashion industry are particularly exposed to harmful pollutants contained in plastic microfibers by drinking polluted water or eating contaminated seafood.
Global plastic production exceeds 300 million tons every year, as reported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
And 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean. Only less than 10% of all plastic is recycled.
The equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic is leaking into our oceans every minute of every day of the year, according to the report The New Plastic Economy by World Economic Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and McKinsey and Company.
Fast fashion and greenhouse gas emissions
The fast fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will grow more than 50% by 2030 if the trend continues, increasing the contribution to climate change massively, as reported by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
The global apparel and footwear industry emit greenhouse gas emissions almost as much as the total for the whole of Europe, as reported by the 2019 Fashion Transparency Index.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimated in 2017 that the global fashion industry emits 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases each year, which is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
The global fast fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations.
It adds massively to the amount of carbon dioxide and methane present in the atmosphere that accelerates global warming. Fast fashion has a catastrophic contribution to climate change.
Intensive animal farming for leather, fur, and wool creates lots of methane, a very potent greenhouse gas, and by-products of animals' digestion.
Over 20 years, one kilogram of methane warms the planet as much as 80 times more than one kilogram of carbon dioxide, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Animal agriculture, livestock, and animal feed are a significant driver of deforestation and are also responsible for approximately 60% of direct global greenhouse gas emissions.
80% of global deforestation is a result of agricultural production, as reported by Greenpeace.
Fast fashion is destroying the planet at an alarming rate. The overproduction and overconsumption of textiles, apparel, footwear, and accessories aren't sustainable.
We have to rethink completely how we produce and consume clothes to prevent irreversible damage to people, animals, and the planet.
Thankfully, we have the power to drive change in the fast fashion industry by voting with our money, changing our shopping habits, boycotting unethical fashion brands, and switching to conscious clothing.
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About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.