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April 11, 2018

It’s mind blowing that $682 billion was spent by people on Black Friday last year. 

Fashion, a USD $2.5 trillion sector, employing more than 60 million worldwide is the #2 most polluting industry in the world, right behind oil. Shocking, isn’t it? Well how about this - your favorite cotton T-Shirt probably took around 2700 gallons of water to produce, that’s enough drinking water for one person for 3 years. Your favorite pair of skinny jeans? One pair of denim on average uses over 1000 gallons of water. This amounts to over 400 billion gallons of water every year just to make the jeans sold in the US. 

We all know that the world is facing extreme freshwater scarcity – most recently in the news South Africa's Cape Town is set to run out of water this month, April 2018! Over a billion people globally don’t have access to safe water, now put this in perspective with the amount of water wasted to produce one cotton shirt and pair of jeans.

The reality is that making fabric uses water, energy, chemicals, and other resources that most people don’t think about, or ever see. We think knowledge is power, so lets talk about resource use, climate change, and other impacts of fashion.

Here are the Top 5 Reasons why fashion is the second largest polluter which also gives us insight on how to tackle the problem so that brands can produce more sustainably and shoppers can be more informed about their decisions.  

Water Pollution

(Img Source: https://www.nrdc.org)

WATER

Consumption

Fashion is the second largest consumers and polluter of water because processing raw materials and manufacturing clothing consume extreme amounts of precious H2O. Manufacturing textiles is extremely water intensive.

Pollution

After the water is used in the manufacturing process, this often-polluted water is then sent back to our rivers, lakes and oceans. The World Bank estimates almost 20% of global industrial water pollution comes from the treatment and dyeing of textiles. In China alone, the textile industry pumps out more than 3 billion tons of wastewater every year.

PRODUCT EMISSIONS

The fashion industry is a primary source of greenhouse gas emissions which pollute our atmosphere and contribute to climate change. It accounts for 10% of carbon emissions globally, the result of its long and varied supply chains, production processes, manufacturing, shipping and retail activities.

For example, cotton, leather and other raw materials grown in industrial farming operations create huge energy footprints. Also, polyester, nylon, and other petroleum-based materials emit harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas almost 300 times more potent than CO2. Globalization also means that not only may clothes have travelled across the world on a ship or plane powered by fossil fuels, but that the production of a single garment is now likely to involve several different countries. Nearly half of the ready-to-wear products Americans buy are manufactured in China, where the textile industry emits 3 billion tons of soot each year, greatly impacting both human and environmental health.

Toxic fashion (AFP/Getty)

 CHEMICALS

THE PRODUCTION OF TEXTILES USES 20 BILLION POUNDS OF CHEMICALS A YEAR AND A LARGE PORTION ARE CARCINOGENIC AND TOXIC

2,000 different chemicals, including formaldehyde, chlorine, lead, and mercury are used in textile processing. Of these, over 1,600 are used in dyeing processes, but only 16 are actually EPA-approved. Um…

Runoff from dye houses, for example, can contain heavy metals, alkali salts, toxic solids, and harmful pigments. About 40% of colorants used around the world contain organically bound chlorine, a known carcinogen. It can cause cancer like tobacco, asbestos and DDT. Gross, right?

The global textile industry discharges 40,000 – 50,000 tons of dye into the water system, which contributes to an estimated 17 to 20% of the world’s industrial water pollution.

Given that textile-dyeing facilities tend to be located in developing countries, where regulations are lax and labor costs are low, untreated wastewater is often discharged into nearby rivers, which in turn finds its way into the world’s seas and oceans. The Citarum River in Indonesia is one of the most heavily polluted in the world, due to the hundreds of textile factories that line its riverbanks 

Packaging waste

(Img Source: http://www.packaging.sbio.vt.edu/)

PACKAGING

We all love a pretty unboxing experience, but what’s the reality? The whole thing lasts 2-3 minutes and then that pretty packaging usually ends up straight in the trash bin. The exponential growth of online shopping has even greater deepened the need for packaging. Aside from the plastic and cardboard wrapping the products come in, there are the boxes, the labeling and the paper wrapping or foam packing meant to protect what is nestled inside. Add the globalization of production and you soon realize that the packaging you receive your items in are only a fraction of the packaging used across the entire supply chain for that single product.  Roughly one-third of trash in the US today is made up of packaging waste, and even with ongoing recycling efforts, 36 million tons of packaging waste ends up in landfills and our oceans and rivers, according to The Guardian

FASHION WASTE

Americans throw away over 14 million tons of textiles a year. Over 99% of the clothing thrown away in the US can be recycled or reused, but sadly more than 85% ends up in landfills. Even in a landfill, these materials don’t just go away—nylon takes 30 to 40 years to biodegrade, while polyester requires more than 200 years. Talk about a hand me down.

SO WHAT CAN WE DO? ARE WE DOOMED?

The reality is that fashion is not slowing down anytime soon, and being naked is not an option. But we start to #GIVEASHIT. Personally, we believe that it should be a brands responsibility to produce sustainably and minimize the impact on the environment. There are so many incredible new technologies and materials today that make this possible, even though it is challenging and normally comes at a higher cost. In the meantime, consumers can also help by shopping sustainably and supporting brands that are trying to make a difference. Here are a few of the sustainable initiatives that we employ and Nudwear that we hope will inspire other brands to do the same.

  • USE SUSTAINABLE & RECYCLED MATERIALS IN EVERYTHING FROM PACKAGING TO FABRICS
  • USING MODERN DIGITAL PRINTING INSTEAD OF TRADITIONAL FABRIC DYING METHODS WHICH SAVES WATER AND DYE RUNOFF
  • AVOIDING PLASTIC & USING RECYCLED AND BIODEGREADABLE PLASTIC WHERE IT CAN NOT BE AVOIDED
  • OFFESET OUR CARBON FOOTPRINT VIA THE CARBONFUND.ORG

 You can read more about our sustainability initiatives here.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing tons of tips on how slowly live a more sustainable lifestyle. We hope you enjoy them!

Much love,

Astrid Montalta Unwalla

CEO & Founder


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