By Florine Roche
Jan 23: Clothes makes the man is an old proverb which means dressing well helps people climb the ladder of success. It is believed that people are often judged by the clothes they wear as it explains a lot about their overall personality. Being fashionable or trendy is the in thing and fashion is ever-changing. What is trendy today may become completely an old hat in a few months. Many among us are sure to admit that most of our clothes haven’t seen the light of the day, at least after one use.
Needless to say keeping with the changing fashion trends we find that people are generally well dressed because clothing has become affordable over the last few years. The burgeoning middle class with increasing disposable income, the emergence of shopping malls offering irresistible discounts round the corner and with the desire to look good, fashionable and well dressed - there is a new craze among people to indulge in shopping to update their wardrobes. With this new craze for shopping, people normally end up buying superfluous stuff and this is true about clothes also. For most people shopping has become a rage, an obsession or a favorite pastime to indulge in during weekends and this obsession isn’t confined to any particular age group.
To cater to the consumerist culture that has been sweeping across the globe fast fashion clothes have entered the markets on a big scale. The low priced, runaway-to-retail segment known as fast fashion has caught the fancy of people. Fashion trends keep evolving so quickly and one needs to constantly update to keep abreast of the latest fashion trends which results in buying more clothes. However, most of us are oblivious of the impact it has on our environment. Clothes as a waste has such a huge impact on our environment, it is time we go for corrective measures to set it right.
This fast fashion gives priority for speed and low cost to meet the growing consumer demand. Cheap clothing creates quick demand but in the process it also ends up creating heaps of disposable clothes that degrade our environment in a big way. The apparel industry is the second biggest pollutant and it is said to account for 10 percent of the global carbon emissions. Fashion industry is said to be the second greatest consumer as well as polluter of our fresh water sources also.
A serious threat
Environmental degradation is one of the serious threats encountered by the world today. Humans and human activities are the main culprits in causing damage to our eco system. Recycling being the key factor to deal with the problem of waste generation there is a heightened focus the world over on the need to recycle products including clothes to reduce the harm to our eco system. Recycled textile waste that includes carpets and mattresses in addition to clothes can be used for making paper, stuffing for furniture, wiping rags, to turn into insulation and more.
Sometime back there was a huge hue and cry when a well-known British Luxury fashion brand had admitted of burning $ 40 million of stock of unsold clothes as it did not want to sell those clothes cheap in order to protect its brand value. This prompted a leading fashion critic to say that landfills and incineration (burning) are the two dirtiest secrets of the garment industry.
Now let us see how the apparel industry impacts the environment. Though there is a lot of focus on recycling plastic, paper, metal etc., recycling clothes has not been given the priority it deserves considering its impact. May be because clothes are now cheaply available and are also plentiful the need to recycle is not felt much as of now. The result – these used clothes end up in in unwanted places and some are event burnt. In India we find clothes form a major source of urban waste and most of the clothes end in water bodies like sea, rivers and lakes. It is said that 85 percent of the textiles in landfills are fashion industry products.
Though natural fibers like cotton, linen and silk are plant based they are subjected to a lot of unnatural processes before they become proper clothes. These clothes are bleached, dyed or printed and therefore are harmful. Once in landfills they pollute the environment by releasing methane and other greenhouse gases during decomposition and cause global warming. Also dyes and other chemicals used in the garments get into the soil and contaminate the water bodies. Growing cotton crop requires lots of water and growers use pesticides to prevent damage to crops. These pesticides get into the soil and into the underground water and are harmful to marine life.
Clothes take centuries to decompose and therefore they will remain in the landfills for a longer time occupying a much larger area. Synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon and acrylic have environmental drawbacks because they are essentially a kind of plastic made from petroleum. It will take many centuries for these to become biodegradable and it is certainly a cause of concern.
Polyester – The big culprit
The most popular fabric used in the apparel industry is polyester. These polyester clothes when washed in machines shed microfibers. These microfibers are nothing but a type of micro plastics that add to the high levels of plastic in the seas and oceans. These microfibers don’t biodegrade easily and they are a serious threat to the aquatic life and through them to the humans. Scientists have already sounded a warning that polyester materials are contributing in a big way to ocean plastic pollution. The languid response to this warning, needless to say, is a cause of concern.
The overall impact the apparel industry has on our earth is much greater than what is envisaged so far. Most of the countries the world over have failed to realize that this consumerist culture and the craze for fashionable clothes is deleterious to our environment. Though the need to recycle clothes hasn’t got the attention it deserves so far, the world has to wake up to the idea in order to minimize the impact on the environment.
Ignorance cannot be bliss on issues that concern our environment. Most people may not be aware how textiles impact our environment because not much thought is give to what we are buying or how it is manufactured. In fact knowing more about the process of textile manufacturing can help people know what they are buying. Creating awareness should be given top priority.
It is said that on an average at global level only 30 per cent of the garments are worn by people just once before they are kept aside or discarded. If we are really serious about reversing the damage done to our environment by the excess consumption of garments, we need to put a full stop to this unabashed desire to buy new clothes. We have to a definite no to the habit of stockpiling garments which we don’t actually need. If not full stop at lease we need to reduce the quantity and the frequency of buying them.
There is also a need to encourage reuse and recycle and that would the next big step to deal with the problem of environment degradation caused by garments that litter our planet. So the next time we go on a shopping binge we need to give a thought - so that we can contribute in our own way to correct the wrongs. After all, every small effort on our part counts and it can make a huge difference.