Impacts of clothing on Earth

By Emily Huss, Mikya Lierman, Arielle Perez and Alyse Petersen

Clothing that is produced today is causing damage to our environment. Not only does it harm the water, it affects our air and land. If we don’t take action now, what will it look like in 100 years? Do you want to live in a world full of trash and full of pollution? 

The fashion industry is the second largest consumer of water. One pair of jeans takes around 2000 gallons of water to produce, and it takes about 700 gallons to produce one t-shirt, think about all the sports t-shirts that we go through every school year. An average team involves 20 players, that would involve 14000 gallons of water. 

The dyeing process is another large contributor to pollution of water in the world. Bleaching and dyeing clothing involves up to 200 tons of water for every ton of finished textiles produced. The fashion industry takes 25 to 40 gallons of water every two pounds of garments. Every year they use 24.56 trillion gallons of water just for the dyeing process,(CNN Style). Then, all this waste sometimes goes into a nearby body of water. For example, the Citarum river in Indonesia, home to 2,000 textile factories, is known as one of the most polluted rivers in the world due to the dyeing process and dumping remnants of fabric they don’t need. These factories throw their waste into the river and pollute it.

Did you know that over 60% of clothes that are produced and sold today are made of polyester? ( Kirchain et al., 2015) Polyester is a synthetic fabric usually made from petroleum. I challenge you to take a few seconds out of your day to check your tags and see what your clothes are made out of. The chances of them containing polyester are very high! Producing clothing from plastic takes 342 million barrels of oil each year. Every time you wash those polyester garments it releases 6 million micro fibers of plastic, which can get into our waterways (Italian National Research Council).

Did you know that at least 80% of all clothing ends up in incinerators or landfills (Global Fashion Agenda, 2017)? Textile waste has increased 811% since 1960. Every single second, one garbage truck of clothing is taken to the landfill or burned each second.

Each year, 150 million trees are logged and turned into textiles. 68% of the planet’s wildlife has decreased since 1970. Although all of this information is shocking, there is more that goes on behind the scenes. Worldwide an estimated 152 million children engage in forms of child labor. In the northern part of China, which produces around 20% of the world’s cotton, the government has forced 1.8 million Uighur people into labor camps with little reason. They have the Uighur people picking cotton and working for them without pay, because of this the United States has put a ban on cotton from China.

Another issue that has come up due to COVID-19 is garment workers are going unpaid or they are being underpaid. They estimate that those totals range between $3.19 to $5.78 billion of unpaid work. These people have been forced to work without the chance to negotiate their wages. 

Even before COVID-19, 93% of brands surveyed weren’t paying garment workers a living wage. 90% of these workers have no way of negotiating their wages or their work conditions, and 80% of female garment workers in Bangladesh have experienced some kind of violence or harassment while on the job. When women are working it is important that all women feel safe and they don’t feel the need to be carrying a weapon to defend themselves. This is a problem all over the world and it’s usually men who are in power like the women in Bangladesh. I would imagine they feel as if they can not do anything about it because they are afraid of losing their job. If this was your own daughter or a little sister, I know that this would make you feel even more sick to your stomach.

Now, what can we do to try to solve this problem? Try to shop secondhand and sell your old clothes to help with reducing the waste of clothing. Research the clothing brands that you’re purchasing clothing from. Making or mending your own clothes instead of throwing them out helps our environment.  We could also invest in research, infrastructure and we can innovate for circular economies. Extending the lifetime of our clothes by 9 months of active use could reduce carbon, water, and waste footprints by around 20-30% each. We ask that our government sees these issues and tries to solve the problem that we are running into. Bottom line is BUY LESS, CHOOSE WELL, AND MAKE IT LAST.