Clothing: Are you as green as you thought?

For every pair of jeans 2,900 gallons of water are used. 

LatamPost has begun a series of articles exploring how green people really are. In a previous article we discussed the meaning of being environmentally friendly in the 21st century, now we analyze the environmental effects of the fashion industry.
The fashion industry has a great impact in the environment. It demands intensive soil use, causes pollution, needs a lot of energy, uses massive amounts of water and leaves behind waste.

Monocultures have increased in the last decades because they increase production and cost less. But this extensive land use for example for cotton production reduces biodiversity and harms the soil. Plagues can develop easily making farmers use more pesticides that also affect the environment and the soil may become sterile because other plants disappear and the soil receives less nutrients.

Cotton is the largest textile raw material used in the world. According to the World Health Organization the cotton industry is responsible for 25% of all pesticides used worldwide and it is the second largest polluter in the world, just behind the oil industry.

For every hectare of cotton plantations 1kg of dangerous pesticides are used. Pesticides pollute both the land and water and increases soil infertility. According to WWF about 20% of toxics polluting the water come from the textile industry.

More so, cotton production is the most water intensive crop. According to the Water Footprint organization it is responsible for 2.6% of global water use, one pound of cotton produced uses 101 gallons of water. Additionally, the world’s annual cotton crop contributes to the evaporation of 210 cubic meters of water and the pollution of 50 billion cubic meters per year.

The dyeing, printing and bleaching of cotton is also the most energy and chemical demanding stages of the production. For instance, China, home to over half world’s total textile production, discharges about 40% of all dyeing chemicals worldwide. Also, it is believed that 10% of all CO2 emissions come from this industry.

To put this is more relatable terms, 2,900 gallons of water are used for every pair of jeans and 593 gallons for every cotton T-shirt. A men’s suit uses 1,466 gallons and a pair of sneakers 1,162 gallons.  More so, every laundry load in average uses 41 gallons of water.

But all this energy, water and land use often comes for nothing because clothes are frequently trashed. More than 2 million tons of clothes are thrown out in the UK every year (about 30kg for every person). In the US its 12.4 million tons and each jean or shirt were used only 6 times before being disposed.

With fashion changing every season this creates an unsustainable cycle, even if more eco-friendly textiles are used of recycled. Jacqueline Jackson from the Environmental Leader News Network recommends educating consumers and designers to show them the extent of their choices and maybe use more innovative and less harmful ways in the upcoming fashion seasons.

LatinAmerican Post | Maria Andrea Marquez

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