The term “fast fashion”, which we heard for the first time in the early 1990s, is explained as “the 15-day journey of transporting a garment from the mind of the designer to the stores”. In short, it is the name given to the mass production and consumption trend in the fashion sector, and is a kind of disposable fashion trend that constantly renews itself, and at the same time means selling more products at a cheaper price.
This speed is the reason why the textile industry is the second most polluting sector in the world after the oil industry. According to statistics, the fast fashion industry is responsible for 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions. When we look at the last 15 years, it is seen that the purchase of clothing has increased by 60%.
Increasing population, rapid urbanization and a shift in the global economic power base are among the most important factors affecting the growth of the global clothing market at this rate.
The clothes you see in shopping malls go through many stages before they come to the showcases. A long journey awaits until textile raw materials become clothes. Let’s take a look at the life cycle of a garment in order to better understand the impact of the clothing industry on the world.
1. Raw Material
Cotton, linen, wool, polyester and similar raw materials are used in fabric production and each one has a different ecological fingerprint.
Cotton cultivation has serious harmful effects on the environment and negative consequences. The need for a lot of water for cotton farming is one of these effects. It is claimed by some experts that cotton is the largest user of water among all agricultural products. The amount of water required for one kilogram of cotton is 20,000 liters. This amount is also equivalent to the water used in the production of a single T-shirt and a pair of jeans.
In addition, pesticides that enable plants used in cotton farming to be resistant to moths and molds and to grow rapidly are chemicals that threaten the ecological balance. The use of pesticides threatens the health of those working in agricultural areas and the people around them through water, soil or air.
Polyester, another material used in fabric production, is not natural. It is a synthetic polymer whose raw material is petroleum-based and is a kind of plastic. Since the petroleum industry is a sector that releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the carbon footprint of polyester clothing is quite high.
Another thing that most of us do not know is that polyester fabric clothes shed plastic microfibers when washed in the washing machine. Microfibers that cannot be filtered because they are so small that they are not biodegradable, mix into the water and threaten marine life to a great extent. These microfibers, which are food for fish, also pose a danger to human health through fish consumption in the final analysis.
2. Processing of Raw Materials
Mercury, chromium, lead, and similar toxic substances are generally mixed with nature after they are used in the washing and dyeing stages in textile factories. For example, Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPE), which is the active ingredient of the textile processing industry, is very harmful for our health. This substance causes burns and interferes with fertility. In Europe, restrictions and prohibitions have been imposed on the use of some toxic substances.
In this context, the REACH Regulation (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) was put into effect on 1 June 2007 by the European Union to control the risks posed by toxic substances to human health and the environment. However, in developing countries where factories and production facilities are the majority, there are not enough regulations regarding such restrictions and it is seen that the regulations currently in force are not complied with.
To understand the environmental impacts of the clothing journey, we can take the example of a pair of trousers. Cotton, which is the raw material of trousers woven from cotton yarn, is grown in Uzbekistan and processed in India. Then it is painted in the factory in Morocco and sold in France, which is the last stop.
It covers 65,000 km on its journey from the farm to the store. This distance is equal to half a world tour. According to the report, the total greenhouse gas emission of this whole process (the sum of the production and transportation stages) is 1.2 billion tons per year. This amount is more than the greenhouse gas emissions of all international flights and sea shipments combined.
The average consumer throws away 31.75 kilograms of clothing per year, which causes us to generate 13 million tons of textile waste each year globally. 80% of these discarded textile products go to landfills or are incinerated, and 20% are reused or recycled.
Discarded clothes can stay in landfills for more than 200 years, during which time they can decompose, emitting methane, a greenhouse gas more dangerous than carbon.
Recycling and reuse, which is another option for textile waste, are two areas where various projects are carried out in many countries. One of the works done is to place textile waste collection bins at some points of streets and avenues. Textile products thrown into recycling or collection bins are reused or subjected to a process that produces regenerated fiber.
Since we are just at the beginning of the road, there is a need for a holistic evaluation of textile recycling methods in the world, and it is of great importance to develop environmental awareness.