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Fast fashion: good for trends, bad for the environment

Fast fashion: good for trends, bad for the environment

Fast fashion: good for trends, bad for the environment
February 28
08:00 2022

When people scroll through SHEIN’s website, do they ever wonder why the prices are so affordable or what it took to make the pair of baggy jeans they just added to their cart incredibly cheap? The answer is: probably not, as they are likely more interested in taking advantage of getting what they want for an attractive price point. The problem is that these low prices come with a big consequence. Fast-fashion stores are contributing to various damaging effects on the environment.

As trends come and go, fashion businesses are quick to produce affordable clothing to remain in style — this has resulted in excessive amounts of clothing waste and pollution risks. When the prices are affordable people tend to not hold value in the items they purchase as they are mass-produced and easy to obtain. About 62 million metric tons of apparel were globally consumed in 2019. 

Most of these clothes end up in landfills due to their low quality, becoming worn out after a few uses. As these landfills start to fill up with clothing, companies will move waste to different areas and incinerate them as a means of disposal. In the U.S. 85 percent of discarded clothes end up in landfills or are incinerated. This poses a public health concern to nearby communities because they could be exposed to toxic gases and smoke from these landfills, polluting the air. 

Oceans are also being affected by the toxic chemicals that come from textile dyeing. Many manufacturers for fast-fashion corporations are overseas, with foreign environmental regulations tending to be non-restrictive when it comes to clothing production. Bangladesh is one of the world’s largest clothing manufacturers, with a revenue of $34 million, and it is common practice to dump wastewater into the Indian Ocean.

The water is a mix of toxic chemicals, dyes, salts and heavy metals that affect drinking water sources and further pollute the environment. About 719 finishing factories in Bangladesh discard their wastewater to rivers in the capital city of Dhaka. Around 349 million cubic meters of wastewater were projected to be produced using these dyeing practices in 2021, according to a 2019 study by Environmental Direct.  

Apart from polluting oceans, manufacturing clothes uses a lot of water to produce a single clothing item. It takes about 2,000 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans, from growing the raw cotton to finally manufacturing them. That is enough water to last someone about 11 years, with 182.5 gallons of water per year. That is an absurd amount of water waste, and it must be corrected in order to sustain our water sources. 

A way companies can take action to reduce water waste is to work with production sites that reuse wastewater to manufacture more clothes. Farming programs like the Better Cotton Initiative can help with sourcing sustainably produced cotton. The initiative’s goal is to teach better cotton farming practices by offering field training through their “Better Cotton Standard System,” which then leads farmers to receive a better cotton farming license after learning these practices. 

Consumers can take action against the negative effects of buying from fast fashion stores by looking for better alternatives. Buying from local thrift stores is a great idea because it offers affordable clothing that doesn’t harm the environment. Donating clothes to local thrifts stores also helps to repurpose your old clothes and minimize fabric waste in landfills. Out of the 16 million tons of textile waste produced by Americans every year, about 10 million end up in landfills. It is imperative that we find ways to repurpose old clothing as opposed to discarding it. 

There are also many apps and websites where people can buy, sell and trade clothing. Apps such as Depop and ThredUp, which are very popular right now, repurpose old clothing and sell it at discounted prices to consumers. Depop features many sellers on their app that cater to every different style someone might like. This creates easy access to clothing items that are on-trend while not creating new waste. Other buying and selling apps to check out include Facebook Marketplace, Etsy, eBay, Poshmark and Mercari.

Also, simply just buying less can contribute to less textile pollution. Always ask yourself if you really need the item. Instead of replacing an item that might have ripped or broken, simply sew it and find ways to make it as good as new. 

We as consumers must continue to explore more alternatives to fast fashion and create more awareness for how mass production of clothes affects the environment. 

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

About Author

Melanie Hernandez

Melanie Hernandez

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