• Worldwide, almost 100 billion items of clothing are made annually — 400% more than twenty years ago. A third of them end up in landfill, increasing at a rate of 7% a year.
• The fashion industry consumes more energy than aviation and shipping combined.
• The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that textile factories in China, where “over 50% of the world's clothing is now made”, release around 2.7 billion tonnes of soot every year as a result of burning coal, contaminating the air and leading to respiratory and heart disease. Textile mills are estimated to generate 20% of the world’s industrial water pollution and use 20,000 chemicals, many of them carcinogenic.
• Textiles are the biggest source of synthetic fibres in the oceans. Micro-plastics find their way into waterways every time garments are washed. The UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee on fashion reports that “a single 6 kilo domestic wash has the potential to release as many as 700,000 fibres.”
• China manufactures most of the world’s leather goods, followed by India. The animal welfare charity, PetaUK, reports that globally more than one billion animals are killed every year — cows, calves, water buffalo, horses, lambs, goats and pigs, and in China, dogs and cats. Tanneries use huge amounts of water; most wastewater and solid waste (hides and skins etc.) are dumped into rivers, riverbeds or farmland, causing contamination of both water and land. In Kanpur, India, e.g., everyday 50 million litres of highly toxic water is produced, 80% of which is released untreated; the River Ganges receives most of it: holy it may be, clean it is not. Chronic conditions such as heart disease, tuberculosis, asthma, mental disabilities, skin discolouration are widespread among people living near leather factories.
• Farming conventional (i.e., non-organic) cotton — almost half of all clothing — uses 3% of the world’s arable land, as well as 18% of all pesticides and 25% of insecticides. One of them — Endosulfan — banned in many countries but widely used in India, is linked to several thousand deaths of cotton farmers and their families.
• Cotton is also very thirsty: the World Resources Institute (WRI) estimates that 2,700 litres of water — on average, the volume one person drinks in two and a half years — is used to make a single cotton t-shirt. In Kazakhstan, the Aral Sea, which was once the fourth largest lake in the world, has all but dried up because the rivers that fed it have been diverted by irrigation projects to supply cotton farmers.
• The WRI also says that globally five trillion litres of water are used each year for fabric dyeing, enough to fill two million Olympic-sized swimming pools.
• Even worse than fashion, which typically has four seasons or cycles, is ‘fast fashion’, which can have up to 50 cycles a year. Prices are lower, turnarounds quick, and overproduction common. Items are poorly made and so cheap they are sometimes not even worn before being discarded, at best lasting a matter of weeks before being dumped in landfill.
Tips to reduce your fashion footprint
Adopt the Buddhist maxim: have few clothes, launder often
Repurpose and recycle clothing
Share in clothes swaps
Is that new outfit/pair of shoes really necessary?
When buying new clothes, buy organic clothing and/or hemp, preferably locally-made.