Fast Fashion: How the Clothes We Wear Affect the Environment

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By Sidney Rayba

Editor: Katie Williams

“The fashion industry is responsible for 10 % of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. At this pace, the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will surge more than 50 % by 2030.”

When we hear the words “climate change”, we often think of the contributors. Big businesses, carbon emissions, cars on the road, etc. Very rarely do we think of the tiny decisions we make in our everyday lives as a part of the problem. More recently than ever, society has used what I would call “micro-causes” to help aid the push to stop climate change in its tracks. From using paper straws to “save the turtles”, biodegradable food storage, and even buying clothes that claim to be “eco-friendly” and made from recycled fragments, these micro-causes are only a fraction of what is really happening in our everyday lives.

As a little girl, I never considered the world to be changing rapidly. All I knew was that I enjoyed playing outside and buying toys at the store. It was not until the third grade that I started to become aware of the crisis that is global warming. Earth day, 2008. I was sitting in my class practicing “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, a song and dance our grade had collectively come up with in order to understand how to keep our planet clean. We had built a sustainable garden that same week in front of our school to teach us the importance of being kind and giving back to the earth. It was then that I started to think of the implications of what we can do as a society to better the planet, and keep maintenance on the place we call home.

As I got older, I pushed these thoughts to the side. You know, as a kid you get so transfixed on one topic that you become a mini-activist yourself. I began to sit in my own place and do whatever I wanted to do. My teen years were filled with the media, and social media based advertisements. It was then that I fell into the trap of fast fashion.

Girl from Rochester Hills, Michigan browses SHEIN, a fast-fashion website based in China. SHEIN is one of the top contributors to Greenhouse Gas emissions in the fashion industry.

Stores such as Forever 21, H&M, and online shopping at SHEIN consumed my wardrobe. I realized at this time how quick I was to discard items months after purchasing, purely because the essence and prominence of “micro-trends” told me that what I bought was not “cool anymore”. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized the implications fast fashion had on the environment and society. As a society, we are going through these trends like crazy, with 12 million tons of textiles sent to U.S. landfills each year.

“But Sidney, what about the people who donate their clothes to goodwill?” – While donating your clothes to goodwill makes you feel good on the inside.

Only 10% of the clothes people donate to charity or thrift stores get sold. The rest end up in landfills or flooding markets in developing countries like Haiti where they are bought by the box and kill the local industry.

Grand sale event at the Salvation Army on John R & Avon Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. People line up inside the store to buy and drop off gently used items.

“But Sidney, what about stores like H&M who use recycled textiles in their clothing?”– I’m sorry to tell you that even though you think you’re doing a good deed and “shopping sustainably”, only 10% of textiles used by companies like H&M are recycled, the rest is manufactured polyester. This is what we call, “down cycling”. The 90% of that clothing material that is not being recycled, either ends up in a landfill or down cycled into low-cost things like insulation.

“Eco-friendly” clothing at the Great Lakes Crossing H&M. While the store promotes eco-friendly shopping, only 10% of their textiles come from recycled fabric.

As I’ve become aware of things such as these, I found myself getting more and more angry. No matter what we do, or what the media pushes onto us, there is only so much “the little guy” can do. Big businesses, the fashion industry, and the food processing industry are all main contributors to the carbon footprint we are leaving on this earth. We can only do so much to stop these companies from pumping carbon monoxide and greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere.

Waste Management plant on Joslyn Rd, Auburn Hills Michigan. More than 100 tons of clothing make their way here each year, producing over 9.6 million tons of greenhouse gasses per year.

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