Are we slowly killing ourselves with our clothing shopping habits? Let me shine some much needed light on the subject. The most popular shows on television are about the latest fashion trends, beautiful people and what we all should have or want. We have: Keeping up with the Kardashians, What Not To Wear, Project Runway, Project Accessory, America’s Next Top Model, a slew of makeover shows, and all the reality shows. All these shows and magazines fuel the consumer’s demands of “must haves” for each season.
To further the insanity, we have globalization which continues to make it more affordable to produce clothing at such low prices. To consumers, this is like disposable couture (or fast fashion), so we just buy more of it. Since it only costs X amount of dollars we buy two whether we need it or not! The average American buys approximately 52 items of new clothing per year (women’s average is higher and men’s average is lower).
Now let’s look at the flip side. Regrettably, this disposable couture leaves a pollution footprint. The life cycle of clothing produces potential environmental and occupational hazards.
– Cotton – found in most clothing, is the most water and pesticide-dependent crop in the world. It takes one-third of a pound of pesticides to make one t-shirt.
– Rayon, derived from wood pulp, often relies on clearing old growth forests to make for water-hungry eucalyptus trees, from which the fiber is derived.
– Nylon manufacturing emits nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with a carbon footprint 310 times that of carbon dioxide.
– Polyester, the most commonly used manufactured fiber, is made from petroleum in an energy-intensive process that emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride into the air. All of which can cause or aggravate respiratory disease. The process also uses a large amount of water for cooling.
Our world is becoming more conscience about the toxins around us. We buy organic produce, non-toxic cleaners, and want no hormones or additives in our meat and dairy produce. We have awareness now about non GMO products, but what about cotton, rayon, nylon, and polyester?
The demand for man-made fibers has doubled in the last 15 years (according to figures from the Technical Textile Markets) due to the rise in production in the fashion industry. And of course, polyester is at the top of that list. “Volatile monomers, solvents, and other by-products of polyester production are emitted in the wastewater from polyester manufacturing plants. The EPA, under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, considers many textile manufacturing facilities to be hazardous waste generators,” stated by the environmental health perspective -ehp.gov. The issues of environmental health and safety do not only apply to the production of man-made fabrics. “Cotton accounts for a quarter of all the pesticides used in the United States, the largest exporter of cotton in the world,” according to the USDA. This high production of cotton at low prices is the most prominent factor that compels the globalization of fashion.
All that being said, let’s take a look at the finished product. We want it, demand it, buy it and then we are over it almost before it’s hung in our closets. We spend less time owning the product than it took to create, manufacture, ship and sell it to us. According to the EPA Office of Solid Waste, “Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year. Clothing and other textiles represent about 4% of the municipal solid waste. But this figure is rapidly growing,” stated by earth911.com. So where does all of it go from here? Only about one-fifth of the clothing donated to charities is directly used or sold in their thrift shops. “There are nowhere near enough people in America to absorb the mountains of castoffs, even if they were given away,” says Pietra Rivoli (author of The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy and a professor of international business at the McDonough School of Business of Georgetown University.
What can we do to make a difference?
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and close the loop by purchasing recycled products. Every day we cast our vote in grocery stores by buying organic, non GMO, and hormone free products. The same is the case in this scenario. If we continue to purchase these items, they continue to produce them. It is the simple supply and demand concept. When we stop demanding, they stop supplying. Cast your vote where stores, brands, products and companies support recycling and reusing the overabundance of clothing that is already in existence and needing to find a home.