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The Planet Is Paying a Heavy Price for Cheap Clothes

We are entering an entirely new phase of planetary history, called the Anthropocene. A period in which human activity has been identified as the dominant influence on our environment. And yet, our consumption habits are nowhere near ready to change. To bring an end to the era of wilfully ignoring environmental impacts in fashion, one has to fully understand them.

Cheap Materials Come at a High Price 

A covetable dress from a trendy fast fashion for Women's Sustainable Clothing brand may barely cost £5.00 but the processes that went behind making it have come at a high price for the environment. Fast fashion relies on cheap synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon and acrylic to keep their prices down — most of which contain hidden plastic. These polymer-based fabrics are made from a chemical reaction involving coal, petroleum (from crude oil), air and water. A renown fossil fuel and non-renewable resource, petroleum extraction is extremely damaging to the environment. 

Today, petrol-based fabrics still comprise 66% of all garments across the globe — a large chunk of which ends up in landfills where they can persist for upto 200 years. Non-biodegradable landfill waste is bad as it releases one of the most potent greenhouse gases, otherwise known as methane. This gas is 28 to 36 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 100-year period, making it one of the largest contributors to global warming. However, methane emission isn’t the only damage fast fashion is causing.

Fast Fashion = Foul Water

According to the Pulse of Fashion report, the fashion sector uses enough water to fill nearly 32 million Olympic swimming pools every year. Stress on water resources, coupled with water pollution, and the use of heavy toxic chemicals during processing are also a huge cause for concern. Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, after agriculture. Achieving those brightly coloured or printed fast fashion looks is impossible without relying on large amounts of chemicals and water, that ends up being disposed of in nearby rivers and lakes. 

As the world’s second biggest garment manufacturing hub after China, Bangladesh exported $34 billion worth of garments in 2019 alone. The clothes that are manufactured here often end up on fast fashion shelves across the United States and Europe. According to a recent report by CNN, the water streams in Dhaka, Bangladesh are so heavily polluted by the sewage produced by textile dyeing and processing factories that it's turned to a pitch black colour. This toxic chemical pollution has turned into a health hazard for its residents putting pressure on the availability of clean drinking water as well.

When the health of our planet is compromised, its inhabitants are the first to suffer. Fast Sustainable Clothing is a sector that has long been glorified for its ability to offer style at the fraction of a cost. One that doesn’t just launch seasonal collections but refreshes it almost every two weeks, continuing to cause more damage with every item made. Only an informed consumer holds the power to make better choices for themselves and the environment.

Published by: Vibhuti Vazirani/ 2020-12-04

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