Don’t forget to check back and read my next post Clothing Solutions
Clothes. We need them. Even if nudists, eventually they’re going to want to leave their house and when that day comes they can either get arrested for indecent exposure or they can buy some clothes. What kind of clothes will they buy? Will they buy clothes that with each step of the clothing life cycle they generate potential environmental and occupational hazards or will they choose the road less traveled by making the better decision for the environment?
I guess for some it’s a tough decision. I usually wear t-shirts, jeans, and converses. I don’t pretend to understand what the big deal is about wearing nice clothes. When I have to work, I dress better, but I don’t want to and I don’t like to. Why other people do, I’ll never know. Some people say it gives them confidence, some say they just like it, whatever the reason, there’s a responsible way to do it and there is an irresponsible way to do it. Most will choose to do it the impractical and therefore irresponsible because that’s what fashion is and by fashion I mean the trendy kind, the kind that lasts like five minutes before you throw out your closet to replace it with something that makes even less sense.
Both globalization and consumerism are the main reasons for our clothing overload. Globalization has made it possible to produce clothing at increasingly lower prices, prices so low that many consumers consider this clothing to be disposable. Some call it “fast fashion,” the clothing equivalent of fast food.
The fashion industry is constantly evolving. That creates a couple of problems for both environmentalists and anti-consumerists.
- It means that people are always throwing away clothes to make room for new ones. Most people don’t donate their clothes which means they’re just adding the waste in the landfills. According to the EPA Office of Solid Waste, Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year, and clothing and other textiles represent about 4% of the municipal solid waste. But this figure is rapidly growing.
- As prices and quality of new clothing continue to decline, so too will the demand for used clothing diminish. This is because in the world of fast fashion, new clothing could be bought almost as inexpensively as used clothing. Which means that even if people donate their clothes, it won’t matter because why buy used clothes if you can new ones for the same price? Which means the clothes will just go in the landfill no matter what because there are no people to buy them.
- The knock offs of these fashion forward clothes are made from man-made fibers such as polyester. The manufacture of polyester and other synthetic fabrics is an energy-intensive process requiring large amounts of crude oil and releasing emissions including volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride, all of which can cause or aggravate respiratory disease. Volatile monomers, solvents, and other by-products of polyester production are emitted in the wastewater from polyester manufacturing plants.
- Cotton, one of the most popular and versatile fibers used in clothing manufacture, also has a significant environmental footprint. This crop accounts for a quarter of all the pesticides used in the United States, the largest exporter of cotton in the world, according to the USDA.
- Globalization, driven by improved technology and reduced trade barriers is rapidly increasing the connections between people around the world. There are new opportunities to address poverty but also increased awareness of human rights and environmental issues. Many developing countries are offering major manufacturers tax breaks, low cost land and labour to build factories in areas known as Export Processing Zones. This creates new employment opportunities and income for poor families and export income for the country but sometimes working conditions are exploitative.
- Much of the cotton produced in the United States is exported to China and other countries with low labor costs, where the material is milled, woven into fabrics, cut, and assembled according to the fashion industry’s specifications. China has emerged as the largest exporter of fast fashion, accounting for 30% of world apparel exports, according to the UN Commodity Trade Statistics database.
- According to figures from the U.S. National Labor Committee, some Chinese workers make as little as 12–18 cents per hour working in poor conditions.
The Manufacturing provides a whole other set of problems.
- Dyeing alone can account for most of the water used in producing a garment; unfixed dye then often washes out of garments, and can end up colouring the rivers, as treatment plants fail to remove them from the water. Dye fixatives – often heavy metals – also end up in sewers and then rivers.
- Cloth is often bleached using dioxin-producing chlorine compounds.
- And virtually all polycotton (especially bedlinen), plus all ‘easy care’, ‘crease resistant’, ‘permanent press’ cotton, are treated with toxic formaldehyde (also used for flameproofing nylon).