Fast fashion and its environmental tax

Aparna Chatterjee

As the world continues to battle with the pandemic and collapsing ecosystem, plastic stands to be one of the dangerous threats; a whole system left unchecked for a long time might lead us to choke in the future. Fast fashion is one of the rapidly growing industries. The amalgamation of big profitable corporations with their top-notch marketing teams directing our consumption with the helpless labor of the third-world countries leads to the exploitation of life as we know it.

Fast fashion generates up to 92 billion tons of waste every year. This waste ends up in landfills and oceans. This waste stays there for millennia without an established way to dispose of the trash. Fabric made up of synthetic material takes even longer to disintegrate, leaving microplastics in the ecosystem. Not to forget the essential raw materials consumed to produce the commodity. Every year, the industry wastes up to 71 trillion tons of freshwater. We have nations struggling to provide drinking water to their people. We have countries struggling to provide nourishment to their people. And yet, we have industries that thrive on unconscious consumption without taking any responsibility for the carbon footprint it is living. But are only they to blame?

Fashion trends change by hours nowadays. The problem only seems to increase with the power of social media, influencing the masses to purchase more and the ability to sell goods from anywhere to anywhere. Additionally, with the deteriorating quality of the goods, minimalistic people who consciously try to consume less end up buying things they don’t want. The nature of the relationship between supply and demand has grown unhealthy exponentially. While we feed the harmful growth, industries are doing everything to capitalize on this growth. The fast fashion industry is making money off doing its bit of destroying the planet, and we are letting them by pouring our earned resources. We are paying them to do so, consciously or unconsciously.

The system leaves more and more carbon footprints at every production and supply chain stage. Now, the fast fashion industry is not only the shopping lanes where we do something called window shopping, but we also have big brands in this industry to produce cheap, up-to-date fashion like H&M, SHEIN, Zara, etc. The Greenhouse gas emitted by this industry contributes to 5% of the global greenhouse emission. Not to forget the emission to produce and supply the raw materials, especially synthetic fabrics made of different polymers (plastic). When we talk about water pollution, this industry also checks that box. With all the chemical dyes used to color the fabric, this wastewater flows back into the ecosystem, polluting the water irreversibly.

Exploiting cheap labor?

As we pointed out right at the beginning of this article, this industry thrives on the helpless labor in third-world countries, starting from the big brands to the not-so-known designers. They have their clothing lines made in developing countries of Asia. It is cheap, and due to poor environmental laws, designers get away with the damage they have done. People are forced to work in hazardous situations with poor labor protection laws. Hundreds of people lose their lives making the clothes we own. You got that cute t-shirt for barely Rs.300 because someone was paid Rs.10 per hour for stitching that. Time and again, we hear news from the people working in the clothing industry in Bangladesh and how big brands get away with paying them pennies while selling the same couture for thousands, if not less. 

Is the change needed?

We can change this. Just decide what we are going to support. We have several local brands that provide clothing made up of natural materials. Clothes are made of cotton; jute is more eco-friendly and better for the skin. You will be surprised to know that even banana leaves and bamboo is used to create fabric.

Additionally, clothes made up of such fabrics do not produce fabric balls that usually happen because of regular wear and frequent friction. They last long and later can be used for multiple things laterShopping locally is better for the environment and supports the local community.

Many big brands came with their revolutionary ‘green’ products. Remember Levi’s jeans that consumed eight plastic bottles to make? For Nike shoes that were helping recycle plastic. But the goods were too costly to push people to purchase these. Speaking of jeans and shoes, these products are one of those commodities that consume the highest amount of water in the clothing industry while producing more wastewater than others. Well, we have some low-cost brands recycling plastic in more innovative ways than we think. Also, thanks to the vegan movement, the surge in demand for vegan products and brands gives us a fraction of hope. United Blue is a brand that helped recycle more than 2 million pounds of ocean waste, producing bags and clothes at affordable prices. We have HP that came up with a laptop, Elite Dragonfly Laptop, the first one in the world made up of ocean plastics. Adidas and Parley have collaborated to do their bit for the cause. They have produced t-shirts and shoes consuming ocean plastics. We also have 4ocean, a brand that got some hype on Instagram for consuming ocean plastics and creating beautiful bracelets. Despite these good initiations, the problem remains, and hopefully, we can see an irreversible cycle we have to commit to unless we find a giant that can consume plastics. Why giants? Because Mealworms that can potentially consume toxic plastics can only eat to its size.

REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE! There is nothing we cannot achieve if we come together. Reducing purchases, reusing old clothes, and recycling old fabrics by making rugs, dusters, and napkins can make a huge difference. If your clothes are in good condition, do not think twice before donating to someone in need. Thrifting is another innovative way of reusing and recycling things. You will get branded clothes at a low cost and in good condition. Consuming goods consciously is the only practice that can help us and the planet with immediate effect. Being aware of the carbon footprint left behind due to our daily consumption and trying to reduce it further will help distribute the environmental impact load.

In a nutshell, the ways to reduce carbon footprint.

  • Being vocal and supportive of local brands
  • Using environment-friendly green products
  • Reuse and donate old clothes
  • Thrifting
  • Displaying conscious consumer behavior

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