The textile industry is reported to be one of the worst causes of water pollution in the world and continues to have a disastrous impact on the environment. Lately, fast fashion has dominated and reshaped the fashion industry and critics cite its negative environmental impact such as water pollution, the use of toxic chemicals and increasing levels of textile waste. As the industry grows, the environmental damages increase.
Clothing is made up of various types of materials. The clothes we buy appeal to us because of its vibrant colors, prints and fabric finishes but many of these are achieved with toxic chemicals. Next to agriculture, textile dyeing is the second largest cause of water pollution, contaminating clean water globally. The presence of hazardous chemicals has been reported after tests were done on products of some fashion brands, according to Greenpeace. Many of these chemicals are already banned or strictly regulated in various countries because they are toxic, bio-accumulative, disruptive to hormones and are carcinogenic.
Polyester, the most popular fabric used for fashion, breaks down in washing machines leading to the build up of microplastics in the water system. When polyester garments are washed in domestic washing machines, they shed microfibers that add to the increasing levels of plastic in the ocean. These microfibers are minute, thus can easily pass through sewage and wastewater treatment plants into the waterways. They are a serious threat to aquatic life because they do not biodegrade. Small creatures such as plankton eat the microfibers working their way up into the food chains to fish and shellfish which humans eat.
Many factories also dump untreated chemicals in the rivers. Dumping of textile chemicals used mostly for dyeing fabrics has made rivers uninhabitable for fish and other animals. And many people depend on rivers for drinking water, washing and bathing. They also need the water to irrigate their lands.
Cotton which is the most common natural fiber is a highly water intensive plant. It requires high levels of pesticides to prevent crop failure. The documentary “True Cost” has shown the devastating impact of toxic chemicals in agriculture such as those used in growing cotton. The report disclosed the death of a US farmer from brain tumour and the serious birth defects found in children of Indian cotton farmers.
Most cotton grown worldwide is genetically modified to be resistant to the ballworm pest. However, this can create problems such as the emergence of “superweeds” which are resistant to standard pesticides. To ensure high yields, cotton crops are treated with more toxic pesticides which are harmful to livestock and humans.
It is indisputable that the production and distribution of the crop, fibers and garments for fashion has caused a devastating impact on the environment. The large scale of the fashion industry and the growing quantity of fabrics that are produced for clothing each year is what makes its destruction of the environment so widespread. One measure that can help protect the environment is buying less new clothes unless they are really needed. This in a way can make the industry more environmentally sustainable.
Fortunately, many international clothing brands waking up to the compounding effects of the textile industry and has recognized it as one of the major causes of water pollution. Fashion brands are looking to improve their own supply chains and production processes. A coalition of retail companies, apparel and shoe manufacturers, fashion houses, non-profits, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a new organization called The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). It aims to develop improved sustainability strategies and tools that allows shoppers to see how well their clothing items sustainably produced without negatively impacting the planet.
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