By Breanna Giovanniello ’16 (Environmental Studies Major from Cold Spring Harbor, NY)
Sustainability and fashion are two words that are rarely found in the same sentence. However, what most people don’t know about fashion is that it is the third most polluting industry in the world after oil and agriculture. Being glamorous has a surprisingly large impact on water, global climate change, and toxic pollution.
Fashion happens to be the second largest consumer and polluter of water. One pair of denim jeans, for example, uses between 1,000 and 3,000 gallons of water. This polluted water is often released directly back into our rivers, lakes, and oceans.
From growing textile fibers to moving fabrics around the world, clothing is a giant contributor to global climate change. Cotton, leather, and other raw materials grown in industrial farming operations require large land and energy footprints. Many of these operations take place overseas and require a great deal of energy to transport from China to America.
The fashion industry uses thousands of different chemicals to manufacture clothing; many of these chemicals are extremely toxic. The production of textile fibers uses 20 billion pounds of chemicals a year. 1,600 chemicals are used in dyeing processes, but only 16 are actually EPA approved. Runoff from these dye houses can contain heavy metals, alkali salts, toxic solids, and harmful pigments and often end up in our water supplies. These toxins end up harming not only human health, but also the various plants and animals that depend on our water systems.
Fashion has the tendency to be extremely unsustainable, however you have the ability to be a conscious and sustainable consumer. You can do that by:
- Investing in clothing made out of sustainable materials such as organic cotton, tencel, or viscose.
- Purchasing vintage or remanufactured clothing instead of brand new clothing. Remanufactured clothing can save more than 13,000 pounds of CO2 emissions a year.
- Not tossing your old items, but instead recycling and donating your old clothes! If every American recycled one more T-shirt a year, we would recover 210 billion gallons of water and 1 million pounds of CO2.
- Stopping water from becoming a fashion victim and washing smart! Wash your clothes only when necessary and in cold water to save water and energy.
- Drying smart! Line drying your clothes can eliminate up to 700 pounds of greenhouse gases annually.
It’s important to be aware of your everyday impact on the environment and make decisions to lessen this impact. Do a little research the next time you need a new sweater and look for brands such as Patagonia, the Reformation, and PeopleTree that produce environmentally sustainable clothing.