Clothing is not always top of the list when we think about our planet. However what we wear can have a large impact, especially as clothes shopping, ‘retail therapy’ and the huge range of clothes available mean that many of us have more than we need in the cupboard.
The true cost of fast fashion
Clothing not only has a carbon footprint, but the industry has been in the firing line increasingly in the last ten years, as its growing impact on the environment, and cases of poor treatment of workers has been more exposed.
10% of greenhouse gas emissions come from clothing and footwear with 1 in 6 people working in the sector globally, producing over 80 billion garments annually.
There used to be two seasons for fashion, and then four, now it is constant and instant. With the models of fast fashion today a new garment can be designed, created and shipped within weeks. The costs of this to the planet comes in the form of pollution from chemicals and dye into our rivers and oceans, transport used for speed and not efficiency, huge amounts of waste (as companies try to make economies of scale work) and the result is frequently poor-quality clothes that don’t last.
Clothing production also uses a lot of water. In 2014 the cotton industry was blamed for the complete drying up of the Aral sea; once the world’s fourth largest lake. On average a new pair of jeans and a cotton t-shirt need 8,000 litres of water to produce. That is over 6 months’ worth of showers!
What can we do?
Obviously the easiest solution is to buy less by reducing urges to impulse buy, or buy nothing new and instead opting to swap, borrow or buy second hand. We can also make conscious decisions when we do buy new items to reduce our impact.
Buying organic cotton, which is estimated to emit 46% less greenhouse gas than non-organic, is a great way to reduce our clothing impact. Organic farmers rely more on rainwater instead of extracting out of the ground and organic soil acts like a sponge, soaking up water during floods and holding it for longer during droughts.
At least our clothing gets used, right?
Many of us only wear a small proportion of clothes in our cupboards. In the last 15 years, as clothing production has doubled, the number of times we wear an item before it is discarded has decreased by 40%. Sadly, due to the incredible pace of fast fashion, a garbage truck of clothes is buried in landfill every second.
Buying clothing that can be worn at least 100 times, gives more thought to the quality and value for money as well as the style. If we want outfits for one off occasions, then there are options to consider such as renting, borrowing from a friend, or buying second hand.
It creates on average 10kg of carbon emissions to produce just one new item of clothing, and this can be avoided with second hand clothing from sites like Vinted, eBay, Depop or the charity shop. It has a very different footprint as it doesn’t need new material, or manufacturing, and the main environmental impact is getting it to your front door.
As textiles can take up to 200 years to decompose in landfill, by donating your unworn clothes to charity you will help reduce textile waste sent to landfill and greenhouse gas emissions. A great rule of thumb is donate anything you haven’t worn for two years.
Extend the life of your clothes
Protecting the clothes you already have can mean that our purchases last longer and we use less energy and chemicals over their lifetime.
Washing at a lower temperature can extend the life of our clothes, and if you run your machine at 30C it uses 40% less electricity than hotter washes, good for cutting energy bills too.
Reducing chemicals when washing your clothing can also have a big impact. Many cleaning products are harmful to animals that live in rivers and the sea (which is where they go when you wash them down the sink).
And repairing our clothes instead of sending them to the rubbish pile is a really simple and cheap way to reduce our impact. If you can’t do it yourself then use a professional, or increasingly brands are offering a repair service on their clothes, as they recognise the positive impact this can have on the planet.
Clothing is a way that many of us express ourselves so it isn’t always easy to change our habits overnight. The industry is huge, making slow progress to improve its impact on the planet, so as consumers we can act with our wallets choosing sustainable alternatives for our next purchase. Luckily there are alternatives to buying new with second hand clothes having a very small footprint in comparison, as well as saving us money too.
So if you’re interested in shopping more sustainably, head over to your Giki Zero account to try a step now and protect our planet.