Fast fashion is the rapid design, production and distribution of clothing at extremely low prices. It is promoted across all forms of media, Instagram, TikTok and television shows such as Love Island, the constant promotion of fast fashion has severe consequences for our environment. According to Business Insider fast fashion accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions.
- Resource intensity
Fast fashion relies heavily on the use of natural resources like water, energy and raw materials. For example, it takes 2,700 liters of water to make just one cotton shirt which is enough water for one person for 2.5 years. It takes about 10,000 liters of water to produce enough cotton for a pair of jeans. Recycled fibers make up only 8.9% of all raw materials in 2021, up 8.4% from the previous year but this is still not sufficient. The excess use of raw materials leads to depletion and pollution.
Manufacturing fast fashion garments creates significant amounts of waste and pollutants. It is the second largest polluter in the world after the oil industry. Garments are manufactured in textile factories, and untreated toxic wastewater is dumped directly into local rivers. The wastewater contains toxic substances such as lead, mercury and arsenic which are harmful to aquatic life and ecosystems. These contaminated waters travel to the sea, polluting these waters as well. 200,000 tonnes of dye are lost to effluents every year compromising the quality of water bodies.
- Carbon footprint
Fast fashion generates a large number of greenhouse gases in its production, manufacture and transportation. Fast fashion accounts for 10% of global emissions per year; the industry contributes 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. In the UK the clothing generated by an average household is equivalent to driving an average modern car 6,000 miles. When the clothing ends up in a landfill it begins to degrade and this releases methane, another potent GHG which is 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
Due to the rapid pace that trends change at, the clothes that are bought become ‘out of fashion’ within months of buying them. This means that they are thrown out, ending up in landfills where they take over 200 years to decompose, releasing methane and carbon dioxide as they do so. Additionally, chemicals within the clothes can leach into the surrounding environment. The UK alone disposes of 350,000 tonnes (£140 million worth) of clothing in landfills each year.
As well as the environmental impact, fast fashion also has a disastrous social impact. Fast fashion employees are poorly paid and the working environment is often dangerous. According to the non-profit, Remake, 75 million people make the clothes that we wear, and over 80% of the apparel is made by young girls between the ages of 18 and 24. These workers make as little as $96 per month. This is 3 times less than what the government wage board suggests is needed to live a ‘decent life with basic facilities’. Fast fashion puts stress on mass production and keeping up with the trends above human rights and welfare.
Fast fashion has a detrimental effect on our planet and does nothing to slow the climate crisis. To play your part in fast fashion consider supporting ethical and sustainable brands, buying less clothes and instead buying better quality and donating instead of throwing clothes away.