By: Abby Plonka
Summary. There are many costs to making fashion garments so cheap. The fashion industry alone is responsible for about 10% of global CO2 emissions. Between 2018-2019, there were 25.9 million tonnes of cotton fiber, the material most t-shirts are made of, produced. Although conventional cotton farming only uses 2.4% of the world’s land, it consumes 6% of all pesticides. These chemicals are used to control unwanted pests, however, they can also poison people and other wildlife. Synthetic fertilizer is often used to maximize cotton yields, but it also pollutes rivers and degrades soil. Lower quality water and soil can then create further difficulty in growing healthy crops and providing proper irrigation. Irrigated farms, which produce over 70% of the world’s cotton, take one and a half Olympic swimming pools of water to grow one tonne of cotton. One t-shirt alone takes about 7,000 liters of water just to grow the cotton for it. Regions that grow cotton are often plagued by drought, so with that considered, this amount of water is quite a lot. After the cotton is grown and harvested, it then has to be spun into yarn. This process uses a very large amount of energy and is the second-highest source of carbon pollution across a t-shirt’s production cycle. After this step, the cotton yarn is knitted into the fabric that is used to make the t-shirt. 394 million tonnes of CO2 is generated globally by this process every year. Global production of clothing is only increasing, and with it, the negative environmental impacts will only grow, so finding more sustainable options is imperative if we want to save our planet.
Why we should care? We should care about this topic because fashion plays a huge role in society, and finding sustainable ways to produce clothing is needed to prevent further negative impacts.
I found this article interesting because it summarizes the many ways that the fashion industry contributes to climate change and pollution, and carbon emissions in particular. It also discusses how fast fashion has only made these impacts worse because of how they increased consumption rates and the amount of clothing that goes to waste. This article also discusses the goals that have been put in place in order to reduce the carbon footprint of clothing production and ways that individuals can help reduce the environmental impacts, such as repurposing old clothing instead of buying something new. Additionally, there is also information about new technology that works to reduce waste, which was very interesting to learn about.
Science in Action.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a marine biologist and policy expert and is the founder of the non-profit think tank Urban Ocean Lab.
Dr. Ayana has done a wide range of research on ocean conservation, climate change, social justice, and more. She has conducted research on the impacts of coral reef trap fisheries and has also contributed to research on reducing the impacts of climate change on small island states. She also does research on and helps spread awareness of the different ways we as individuals can help save the planet. This is relevant to my topic because clothing production greatly contributes to water pollution, especially in the ocean. Additionally, the information that she has shared has contributed to the massive amount of awareness that we must achieve in order to work together to create a change in industries’ contribution to pollution.
I thought it appropriate to add here that the environmental impact of hemp has been well established to be much lower than cotton. I don't normally cite a clothing website but this company deals only with hemp clothing:
It is time we look deeper into production of more sustainable fabrics (such as hemp and linen) that will lower emissions and would lower production rates because fabrics such as those last longer. Have we looked more into ways up recycling cotton materials? Not just up cycling into new garments but can we recycle a cotton shirt the same way we could recycle paper or plastic? Alternatives to cotton clothing and garments are on the rise but unfortunately the price tags for such items tend to be costly and something that ultimately feels like a luxury item.
Having products such as food items or personal belongings broken down into water consumption is always an eye-opening take for me. I often buy secondhand clothing, but now I will be thinking twice about the clothing I buy new with regards to what they are made of.
As consumers, are we aware of the environmental costs associated with the true cost of cotton in clothing production? Probably not, considering that we keep watching fast fashion companies like “Shein” and “Fashion Nova” pop up. I couldn’t find an exact number, but the amount of clothing materials sent to landfills each year ranges from the millions to billions of pounds. Imagine if those items were instead composted and turned into organic fertilizers and soils for the production of new clothing.
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