Following our last blog on deep ocean pollution and the research demonstrating fibres from clothing textiles amount to the highest micro-plastic pollution, we decided to give you some information on fast fashion, the detrimental effects of this on the oceans, and some tips to reduce your fashion pollution impact on the oceans.
I cannot emphasise enough how much of a step-change it would be for sustainability if we bought fewer items of clothing per year, wore them for longer and threw them away less often.
— Richard Blackburn, Sustainable Materials Expert
British shoppers buy more clothes than any other nation in Europe. The fashion
industry produces 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions - more than all international flights. Following close behind as the second largest polluter of water globally, is the dyeing of textiles, taking around 2,000 gallons of water to make just one pair of jeans.
The fashion industry has shamefully shifted towards more disposable garments, bringing with it a list of dangerous and wasteful consequences - including an increase of oceanic plastic pollution.
Three in five garments end in landfill or incinerators within a year. Half a million tonnes of microfibres a year enter the ocean. Every second, the equivalent of one rubbish truck of textiles is landfilled or burned. If nothing changes, by 2050 the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.
“There is a fundamental problem with the fast fashion business model, where revenues are based on selling more products, and therefore retailers must constantly offer new collections” says Patsy Perry, senior lecturer in fashion marketing at the University of Manchester.
The average person spends £1,000 per year on clothes, with a recent survey of 2,000 British women finding that the average respondent had around £200 of unworn clothes, shoes and accessories in their wardrobes. Expanded into a national scale, this equates to £10 billion worth of fashion going unworn - and that’s before you start looking at things which only get worn once / a handful of times.
To illustrate the monumental scale of this growth; in 1977 31million tonnes of textiles were produced worldwide, by 2007 this had almost tripled to 80million tonnes. Turning this amount of textiles into clothing requires a staggering 1,074billion kilowatt hours of electricity, 132million tonnes of coal and up to 9trillion litres of water.
Some larger textile mills discard as much as 2 million gallons of wastewater per day, most of which flows untreated into surrounding freshwater sources, which subsequently moves on to the ocean.
Discarded clothes are also piling up in landfill sites and fibre fragments are flowing into the sea when clothes are washed.
Much of the global public is aware that plastic is an enemy to our oceans. However, not many people know that a large percentage of our clothes are made of plastic.
A recent lab study found that polyester and acrylic clothing shed thousands of plastic fibres whenever they’re washed, meaning these microplastic materials travel through the drains and end up in our oceans. These microfibres are less than a fifth of an inch long, which allows them to slip through the filters in treatment plants.
In fact, an average washing load of approximately 13 pounds can release nearly half a million fibres from polyester; more than 700,000 fibres from acrylic; and 140,000 fibres from a polyester-cotton blend. According to a 2016 study commissioned by
Patagonia, more than 64,000 pounds of these fibres may be making their way into oceans every day from the US alone.
You can read our last blog which talks on these fibres here:
The problem derives from our throwaway culture. A recent study showed the number of times a garment is worn has declined by 36% in 15 years. With the western outlook becoming one of filling our lives with possessions as a means of bringing happiness, it is no surprise that throwaway fashion has become a thing, and severely problematic; when our culture tells us we ‘need’ material items to make us happy, but we find that the ones we already have are not bringing us said happiness, we take action and buy more. Often these items we wear very little, hoard, and eventually chuck out. Why? Because they didn’t really fulfil us - probably for a fleeting second we felt the elation of a new purchase, but ultimately, they did not bring us substantial, lasting joy.
Whilst significant progress could potentially be made through imposing tougher regulations on suppliers, or moving towards more sustainable or alternative materials, the main responsibility lies with us, the consumers; whether it be supporting ethical fashion brands, thrifting, or potentially trying to make your own clothes - it is clear the fashion industry needs to, and can change when it comes to water.
Doing nothing is not an option.
What can you do about it?
We have 3 top tips to reduce your fashion pollution impact on the planet’s oceans.
#1 - Get Thrifty
Getting Thrifty is one of them best ways you can reduce your fashion pollution impact. reusing existing unwanted clothing ensures you are still receiving ‘new’ items for your
wardrobe wants and needs, without the questionable ethical impact of buying something new. This way, you reuse and recycle, you don’t support big chains who are often having a detrimental effect of the environment, you get items much cheaper, and you get the immense satisfaction of finding a bargain whilst are the same time positively contributing to cleaner safer oceans.
Extending the life of a garment by just three months is estimated to reduce its life-cycle carbon footprint by 10%, making a smaller and better-used one far less damaging to the planet. And when it comes to clearing out the clothing in your wardrobe, dispose of them responsibly.
Our favourite second hand clothing sourcing strategies include:
Clothes Swaps: These can often be found on facebook, with organisations / shops organising clothes swap local to you. They are usually free to attend, or occasionally are ticketed between £2-5 for entry and occasionally a beverage. There is usually a 10 item maximum, meaning you bring up to 10 items in good condition, and can then take away from the swap as many as you have brought with. Clothing that is left at the end of the clothes swap is then donated to a local charity or charity shop. Setting up a clothes swap amongst your friends or work colleagues is also a great idea.
Charity Shopping: No matter where you live, it is highly likely there will be at least one or two charity shops near you. They are a great way of finding new items, but also passing on any unwanted items of clothing / accessories you no longer want or need, preventing them from entering landfill or incineration. There are few things quite as satisfying as finding a real gem in the chazza shop, and for a fraction of the price you would have spent if it had been new.
Carboot Sales: A carboot sale is pretty much what it sounds like; people park up and sell their unwanted items out the back of their car(usually laid out on a table or clothes rail!). Look up where the nearest car boot sales are in your local area, they normally take place each Sunday, and are usually free to attend. Occasionally some places will charge up to a couple of pounds entry.
Ebay, Depop, Facebook Marketplace: A thrifters version of online shopping. If you have something really specific you want to buy, that you’d rather not chance finding by taking the time to do any of the above methods, then take a look on these sites. You can specifically search for the items you want and buy them outright / bid on them depending on the site. Your purchase is protected and if the item is not what you expected when it arrives you can usually get a refund.
Freecycle: Sites such as freecycle or freegle often have people offering bags on unwanted clothing free for collection. This is also another way to let go of your own unwanted items without the risk of them going to landfill.
#2 - Sustainable Materials and Ethical Business
Be conscious of the materials the clothing you are buying is made from, and where and when you can, support ethical businesses who take care of the planet and their workers through their production methods and materials.
Sustainable materials include: OrganicCotton,Hemp,Lyocell(madefromtrees), Vegan leather(made from pineapple), and PLA(made from fermented food waste).
Many of these materials can be found on the high-street at affordable rates and are moving more into the popular consumer gaze.
Investing in clothes made of sustainable materials and that will last longer, comes with great benefits to our oceans.
#3 - Don’t wash your clothes until they absolutely need it:
There are currently no regulations that limit the textile pollution the general public can release into the oceans from their own homes. To make an immediate impact, buy and dispose of clothes less often and wash your clothing only when it absolutely needs it. With microfibres being washed into the oceans with every wash you do, it is important your clothes are only being washed when they genuinely need it.
Remember, as consumers, the quickest way to advocate for change is to use the power of the money in our pockets. You have power to impact the global fashion industry by simply choosing where and how you buy(or swap!) your clothes. You don’t need to be doing everything ‘perfectly’ to be making a difference. Your efforts, combined with the millions of others embarking on this journey to halt the fast paced climate and environmental damage being done to our planet, are making a difference.