As we begin the new school year, in whatever form it will take, back-to-school shopping has returned.
It is important to understand where our clothing comes from before we buy new outfits again this fall.
Often people assume that climate change and pollution are primarily the result of the fossil fuel industry and the large amount of single-use plastic produced and quickly discarded; however, as James Conca wrote in ‘Making Climate Change Fashionable’ for Forbes magazine, “the apparel industry accounts for 10 per cent of global carbon emissions and remains the second largest polluter, second only to oil.”
The full cycle of fast fashion is destructive to the environment. From the creation of the textiles, to their transportation around the globe and disposal, every part of our fashion industry today is horrendous for the environment.
Growing cotton, producing polyester and colouring these fabrics uses excessive amounts of water, pesticides and non-renewable resources.
Cotton pesticides and dyes are applied in high concentrations, with much of it ending up in waterways, killing entire marine ecosystems and contributing to soil degradation.
Polyester, the other primary fabric of fast fashion, is even more popular as it is extremely cheap, yet it only lasts for a limited time.
This is essentially the basis of the fast-fashion phenomenon: cheap, but quickly discarded. Polyester is made from petroleum-based products, creating 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 a year, which is more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping before the pandemic.
This fabric also contains microplastics which are very damaging.
Microplastics are in all plastic from water bottles to mechanical pencils, yet “35 per cent of microplastic pollution comes from washing synthetic textiles. “One piece of clothing can release 700,000 [microplastics] in a single wash,” a 2016 study by Plymouth University found.
Microplastics are consumed by plankton, small ocean organisms that act as the base of the food chain. Microplastics move up and up the food chain, eventually reaching humans. Ingesting microplastic has many known health concerns for humans and animals, yet each day more and more polyester clothing is produced, containing millions and millions of these deadly plastics.
The manufacturing of fast fashion is evidently detrimental, but perhaps even worse is the disposal of the clothing from this industry.
In Canada alone, “each household throws away 46 kilograms of textiles per year on average, making up around eight to 12 per cent of landfill space,” Matthias Wallander, CEO of textile recycling company USAgain, wrote in the 2012 article, ‘Why textile waste should be banned from landfills.’
When textiles are thrown away, they can take hundreds of years to biodegrade. During this process, they continue to shed microplastics while releasing methane, a harmful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.
Each time we buy an item of clothing, we are adding to this pile of garbage that will last hundreds of years merely for a couple of wears.
Companies may be endorsing such disposable behavior, yet it is consumers who are embracing the problematic values of this unsustainable industry, instead of standing up against it.
Every time we buy an item of clothing, we are saying we support that product, but the fast fashion industry is entirely unworthy of support.
There are many alternatives to fast fashion, that are reasonably priced, superlative in quality, ethical and environmentally friendly.
As I have become aware of the utterly horrendous industry of fast fashion, I have worked to ensure my shopping is as ethical and sustainable as possible, while living on a budget and I advise you all to do the same.
I now buy as much clothing as I can from sustainable brands or thrift/second-hand stores, like Turn About that allow good quality clothing to have a second life. I also try to give my clothing a longer life span, by mending small tears, swapping with friends or taking it to a thrift store myself. Some stores like H&M also have a garment collection program in place to collect any used or unwanted textiles that cannot be reworn or repurposed.
The app called ‘Good on You’ is an excellent tool to help find sustainable brands as well as understand the problems of the most popular fashion brands today.
By implementing some of these consumer choices you can greatly reduce your carbon and ecological footprint.
Society as a whole spends far too much money on products we don’t need or use regularly.
We must realize that essentially the best way to reduce waste and support the environment is to buy less all together.
When you are shopping for back to school this year, think about not only what you buy, who you buy from, but also how much you really need.
Miranda Clark, a graduate of Earl Marriot Secondary, is now in her first-year of environmental science studies at UBC.