The way we purchase and consume things has changed drastically since the arrival of fast fashion. Most of the fashion items are now made with synthetic materials like plastic and sold at artificially low prices, and we dispose of these items regardless of their conditions once a new trend arrives. We now place less intrinsic value on fashion items and buy more clothing and accessories than we ever have. These changes have come with issues. The extraordinary impact of today’s fashion industry across waste, water, soil, and the air are well documented. Plastic Free July challenges us to consider small changes in our consumerism to reduce the use of plastics.
Everything is Made of Plastic
Synthetic materials are cheap and versatile that fast fashion brands love to use. However, they pose a significant risk to the environment. Globally, almost 360 million tons of plastic were produced in 2018, and the main use of these lightweight, inexpensive, and non-biodegradable materials are as single-use items will go straight to the dump.
All products that contain plastic contribute to microplastic pollution, which can end up in the ocean and threaten marine life. There are 150 million tons of microplastics in the ocean already. Floating plastic waste can survive for thousands of years in the water.
Synthetic textiles are also creating significant environmental damages in terms of emissions and waste. An MIT study found that an average polyester shirt produces 5.5kg of CO2, 20% more than its cotton equivalent, and the same emissions as driving 13 miles in a car.
One solution is to treat plastic as a reusable material rather than as a disposable commodity. Governments and companies must make plastic more easily recyclable by using fewer materials in the manufacturing process and increasing recycling facility availability. Or, we can just avoid plastic altogether.
There are health benefits of avoiding plastic, too. Microplastics in your clothes, furniture, beddings, toys, cosmetics, all are polluting our lungs. The concentration of airborne microplastics is higher in indoor air, which result from the fragmentation through friction, heat or light of plastic objects found in our home.
The problem is not only that plastic is used for everything, but also that they are discarded too quickly. The nature of fast fashion culture means products are not designed to have long lives in our wardrobes. We now live in a “throwaway culture” where the bulk of these products are ending up in landfills every minute.
In North America alone, 13 million tons of clothing is sent to landfills in 2017. When garments that contain synthetic fibers are buried in landfills, it will take up to 500 to 1000 years for them to eventually break down. Synthetic materials contain hazardous chemicals such as PVC or solvents, they can reach into the soil while the goods are sitting on the landfill and pollute groundwaters.
When plastic is incinerated, carbon dioxide and other toxic gases are released into the atmosphere, increasing levels of pollutants as well as greenhouse gases, which lead to global warming. Currently, the fashion industry contributes to 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions.
If this ‘throwaway culture’ continues, one-quarter of the total impact of climate change will be due to fashion goods consumption by 2050. We must buy less and keep items for longer, rather than only using or wearing them a handful of times. Studies have suggested if consumers use a single item of clothing for 9 months or longer, it will reduce carbon footprint by 30%.
A transition away from fast fashion towards slow fashion requires a slowdown in manufacturing volumes, reduce the number of products being purchased and increase garment lifetime. If we have to buy something new, choose natural, make it last, then responsibly recycling them at the very end.
Sunglasses for example, just by choosing sunglasses that are made of bamboo instead of plastic, we can reduce the environmental impact drastically. It’s a simple action that we all can take immediately without inconveniencing us at all.
It’s great that a growing number of consumers have started thinking consciously about the impact of day-to-day items such as sunglasses and toothbrushes, and where they end up at the end of their lives. It’s great to start thinking about the wider subject of our environmental impacts. A change is going to require a conscious effort by all of us.
Plastic Free July is a month long challenge to refuse one single-use plastic item as part of a global effort to make a big difference in our environment. Learn more and take on the challenge for a Plastic Free July https://www.plasticfreejuly.org/.