How fast fashion is hurting the environment and people’s health

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For most people who shop in America, it’s inevitable: fast fashion is everywhere. Although definitions may vary, this large portion of clothing available today includes items that are made and shipped as cheaply and quickly as possible. And while fast fashion immediately puts all of the latest runway trends in shoppers’ baskets, speed and trend have environmental and ethical consequences. “Depending on who you talk to, they’ll be more aware of one aspect than the other,” says Christine Ekenga, an environmental epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis.

And even for those who study the impacts of fast fashion, it’s hard to understand exactly how much waste or environmental damage fast fashion creates. Brands and manufacturing plants often don’t have an incentive to be transparent about their practices, says Kamyar Shirvani Moghaddam, a sustainability scientist at Deakin University in Australia. Companies that hope to make clothing as inexpensively as possible for buyers in rich countries outsource much of the textile production and processing process to low-income countries, especially those with few manufacturing laws. and the work.

In addition, producers rely on specific protocols to dye, bleach, decompose or mass produce their items. When these protocols give companies a competitive advantage in retail, organizations may regard them as trade secrets and may be reluctant to share more specific details about the amount of ingredients needed.

Despite these hurdles, researchers and industry surveys have painted a picture of all the ways fast fashion causes environmental and health problems, from the very beginning of textile production until long after we have forgotten. the clothes we throw away.

Manufacturing creates greenhouse gases and pollution

Some of the most used textiles in fast fashion are cotton and synthetics like polyester. Cotton growing, which consumes a lot of water, requires pesticides and fertilizers, which run off into rivers and lakes to create toxic conditions for wildlife. Meanwhile, polyester – which Greenpeace says is in around 60% of clothing made today – comes from fossil fuel. Not only does crude oil have to be extracted and refined, but polyester fibers are slow to decompose in landfills and are partly responsible for leaching microplastics into water bodies. Recently, microplastics have appeared in 70 of 71 seawater samples collected by researchers in the Arctic. Among the plastics found, more than 67 percent were polyester fibers.

Treatments used to turn fabrics into wearable items also contribute to pollution. Clothing manufacturers use dyes, salts, and other compounds to change the color of the fabric and ensure the color stays in place. The process often takes multiple wash cycles – on average, just over two pounds of textiles requires almost 53 gallons of water. And while some manufacturers have started to reuse some wastewater for repeated cycles, that’s not always the case, says Shirvani Moghaddam, a sustainability scientist at Deakin University in Australia.

Workers suffer from poor conditions

The places with the cheapest clothing manufacturing labor also tend to be places with low standards of safety or occupational risk. “In terms of environmental justice, these are industries known for their poor workplace safety practices,” explains Ekenga. The employees, who are mostly women, are exposed to all the chemicals used in the manufacturing process – additives that wastewater analysis has been found to contain arsenic, chromium and zinc. Breathing cotton, flax or hemp dust, a problem garment workers face, can lead to asthma-like symptoms and the type of lung inflammation that smokers often face. Workers also face injuries on the job. A study in Ethiopia, for example, found that just over 40 percent of textile workers surveyed suffered an injury in the past year, most often caused by a machine that damaged his hands or eyes.

There is a lot of waste

Despite pollutants, greenhouse gases, and fashionable work, products only make brief appearances in our closets. The average American sheds 80 pounds of clothing each year, a figure that has increased over the past fifteen years. And although some estimate up to 95 percent of wasted clothes can be recycled, over 65% of what Americans throw away ends up in landfills.

And while plastic fibers, dyes, leather, metal rivets, and more lie in our own landfills, the United States also exports unwanted clothing. In 2015, we sent over $ 700 million worth of clothing to low-income countries. There, low-paid workers sort clothes more, and what is unwanted becomes part of the waste problem in these countries as well.

It’s tempting to say that a solution to the problems of fleeting fashion is to opt out altogether, but simply not to buy clothes made that way. But this is not a solution for everyone. “We have to recognize that not everyone can afford to pay more for their clothes,” says Ekenga, although everyone can try to shop in moderation and be aware of how much they consume.

Buyers who have the funds and the ability to sort through the brands they buy should also be wary. When brands try to discuss being “green” and tout the ways they have reduced their environmental footprint, reading the fine print can be revealing, says Moghaddam. He has seen advertisements from brands in the past, for example, claiming massive improvement in energy use. But on closer reading, the reports only dealt with energy consumed in retail stores – not during production or transportation, where the majority of pollution and energy use occurs.

Some solutions to the misdeeds of fast fashion must come from the brands and manufacturers they hire. Innovations in clothing production could also mitigate the damage. Recycling fibers – taking clothes apart, repainting them and putting them into new products – is an option and requires more infrastructure to make the clothes as easy as throwing them away, says Moghaddam. Manufacturing by 3D printing, where each item is made exactly as ordered, also removes excess and waste that comes off clothes.

Ultimately, says Moghaddam, “we have to rethink the materials and also the process – from the start of cotton cultivation to[whathapost-consumersteps”[quellesontétélesétapespost-consommation”[whathapost-consumersteps”

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