The demand for sustainable products is growing among consumers. And while fast fashion makes shopping for clothes more affordable, it comes at a price. As a result, nearly 90% of clothing takes an inevitable trip from closet to landfill.
Many more people throw garments away instead of donating or reselling them, which is why fast fashion is often called "landfill fashion." In poorly sealed landfills, harmful dyes and microplastics can leach into groundwater and cause excessive environmental damage.
Synthetic Clothing and Its Impact on the Environment
The synthetic polymer polyester is the most common fabric used in clothing. Globally, 65% of the clothing manufactured is polymer-based (plastic) and can take hundreds of years to biodegrade.
Around 70 million barrels of oil a year are used to make polyester fibers in our clothes. Part of this stems from the convenience―polyester is easy to clean and durable. It is also lightweight and inexpensive.
But a shirt made from polyester has double the carbon footprint compared to one made from cotton. A polyester shirt produces the equivalent of 5.5kg of carbon dioxide compared to 2.1kg from a cotton shirt.
Synthetic fabrics like nylon, acrylic, and polyester are also made from plastic. When garments are washed, they shed tiny plastic fibers that enter the environment through wastewater treatment plants.
What Can We Do?
Switching to recycled polyester fabric can help reduce carbon emissions―recycled polyester releases half to a quarter of the emissions of virgin polyester. But it isn’t a long-term solution, as polyester takes hundreds of years to decompose.
Blending natural fibers like cotton, hemp, and wool with recycled poly is better than blending with virgin poly. However, these blends still release plastics into the environment and cause the entire garment to be toxic, essentially ruining what could have been a truly 'sustainable' product.
A great deal of innovation is going into crafting lower-impact fabrics.
Some companies are looking to use waste from wood, fruit, and other natural materials to create their textiles. Others are trying alternative ways of dyeing their fabrics or searching for materials that biodegrade more easily once thrown away.
Sustainable Choices Today
With so many issues with fast fashion coming to light, it seems like there isn’t anything we can do at all. But we can. We don’t have to stop shopping; we just have to start shopping with different intentions. This means a few different things; it can mean intentionally choosing natural fabrics, organic cotton, or other biodegradable items instead of synthetics.
It can also mean only supporting companies committed to giving back to the planet more than is used in the manufacturing process. Lastly, it can mean choosing a few items that you will keep using and will wear well for years to come and keep it out of the landfill in the first place.