The fashion industry is the second-largest consumer of water and the second-largest polluter of water. Here's why.
- Fast fashion makes shopping for clothes more affordable, but it comes at an environmental cost.
- The fashion industry produces 10% of all humanity's carbon emissions, is the second-largest consumer of the world's water supply, and pollutes the oceans with microplastics.
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Some parts of modern life are, at this point, widely known to cause environmental harm — flying overseas, using disposable plastic items, and even driving to and from work, for example. But when it comes to our clothes, the impacts are less obvious.
As consumers worldwide buy more clothes, the growing market for cheap items and new styles is taking a toll on the environment. On average, people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than they did in 2000. Fashion production makes up 10% of humanity's carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams.
What's more, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year. And washing some types of clothes sends thousands of bits of plastic into the ocean.
Here are the most significant impacts fast fashion has on the planet.
Clothing production has roughly doubled since 2000.
Source: McKinsey & Company
In Europe, fashion companies went from an average offering of two collections per year in 2000 to five in 2011.
Source: European Parliament
Some brands offer even more. Zara puts out 24 collections per year, while H&M offers between 12 and 16.
Source: European Parliament
A lot of this clothing ends up in the dump. The equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second.
In total, up to 85% of textiles go into landfills each year. That's enough to fill the Sydney harbor annually.
A 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all microplastics — very small pieces of plastic that never biodegrade — in the ocean came from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester.
Overall, microplastics are estimated to compose up to 31% of plastic pollution in the ocean.
The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of humanity's carbon emissions.
That's more emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
The fashion industry is also the second-largest consumer of water worldwide.
It takes about 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton shirt. That's enough water for one person to drink at least eight cups per day for three-and-a-half years.
It takes about 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans. That's more than enough for one person to drink eight cups per day for 10 years.
That's because both the jeans and the shirt are made from a highly water-intensive plant: cotton.
In Uzbekistan, for example, cotton farming used up so much water from the Aral Sea that it dried up after about 50 years. Once one of the world's four largest lakes, the Aral Sea is now little more than desert and a few small ponds.
Source: Business Insider
The dyeing process uses enough water to fill 2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools each year.