GREENSPACE: Cheap, yet deadly – the real cost of fast fashion

Trend toward disposable clothing a step in the wrong direction

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.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
White Rock dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

Dancers perform at the Museum of Surrey during the opening of “Being Punjabi: Unfolding the Surrey Story” exhibit in October 2019. (File photo: Malin Jordan)
NDP says it will build a South Asian museum in Surrey

Media event held Tuesday at park in Newton

Highway 99 traffic flows under 24 Avenue in South Surrey Monday afternoon. (Aaron Hinks photo)
A cyclist crosses above Highway 99 on 24 Avenue Monday afternoon, Oct. 19. (Aaron Hinks photo)
Liberals promise new freeway interchanges for South Surrey

NDP candidate taking pre-election announcement ‘with heavy grain of salt’

A past extreme weather response shelter set up for women inside Surrey’s Nightshift Street Ministries. (Photo: Chris Paul/
Homeless people in Surrey face ‘shocking and scary’ scenario this winter

Last winter there were nine Extreme Weather Response shelters in all of Surrey and White Rock. So far, during this pandemic, there are only five lined up for the coming winter

File photo
Surrey Mounties seeking dash-cam footage of Whalley road rage fight

Two men are alleged to have stabbed one another

Working smoothly together on May 11, 2020, health minister Adrian Dix, B.C. Liberal health critic Norm Letnick, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and sign language interpreter Nigel Howard. (B.C. government video)
COVID-19 co-operation a casualty of B.C.’s pandemic election

NDP’s Horgan weaponizes senior care, B.C. Liberal Wilkinson calls for ‘wartime economy’

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

A 34-year-old man was treated for a gunshot wound in Williams Lake Monday, Oct 19, 2020. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake man treated for gunshot wound after accidental shooting: RCMP

Police are reminding residents to ensure firearms are not loaded when handling them

A injection kit is seen inside the newly opened Fraser Health supervised consumption site is pictured in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. records 127 fatal overdoses in September, roughly 4 each day

Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria continued to see the highest numbers of overdoses

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A Rick Hansen Secondary School student died in hospital after suffering a medical incident in class on Monday. (File photo)
Abbotsford student dies after medical incident in class

Rick Hansen Secondary School offering additional counselling for students who require it

Investigators work at the Sagmoen farm in Silver Creek. - Image credit: Observer file photo.
Sex workers allegedly called to farm of Okanagan man convicted of assault, RCMP investigating

Curtis Sagmoen, convicted in relation to assault of sex trade workers, is prohibited from soliciting escorts

(Black Press Media files)
Early voters more likely to favour NDP, but overall B.C. election is tightening: poll

According to Elections BC, 383,477 people cast a ballot during advanced voting days

Most Read