The Hidden Cost of Fashion: Uncovering the Environmental Impact

The Hidden Cost of Fashion: Uncovering the Environmental Impact

Within the last few decades the global fashion industry has changed dramatically. Chains like Zara and H&M have transformed the norm of introducing x number of carefully throughout and curated collections to introducing 52 low quality micro collections per year. This introduction of disposable fashion has been hugely successful for the profit margin of these companies but devastating for the environment and the vulnerable sections of society. So let's discover the real cost of that 10 Euro T-shirt you purchased this weekend.

This is the first of three blog articles dedicated to discovering the environmental and social cost of fast fashion and the steps we can take to mitigate the adverse effects. In this article we cover the environmental impact including over consumption of natural resources, water pollution, Greenhouse gas emissions and Waste.

Water Consumption:

The World Wildlife Fund reports that 70% of the water consumed in the world is for agriculture purposes. Cotton consumes more water than any other crop. It's estimated that over 10,000L of water is used to produce one kilogram of cotton. To put into perspective this is equivalent to the water consumed by a person over three years. 

India is a big cotton producer but 100 Million people in India don't have access to clean drinking water. If the warted used in cotton production were to be used to quench thrust over 80% could be provided drinking water. 

Water Pollution:

The production of synthetic fibers requires oil. The water used in this process gets contaminated with lead, arsenic, and other harmful chemicals. In most developing countries the contaminated water is released into the environment without being treated. 

Chemicals are also used in various stages of natural fiber production including dyeing, bleaching and wet processing stages. In Bangladesh alone 1,500 Billion letters  of wastewater from fabric mills and garment factories are released into the environment. Much of this water finds its way into streams. This water then may be used in farming and human consumption. 


Microfibers are tiny plastic particles released from synthetic fabrics (polyester, nylon, and acrylic) when we wash our clothes. They make their way into our waterways through our washing machines and ultimately end up in our oceans. Microfibers pose a significant threat to aquatic ecosystems. These microscopic fibers are ingested by marine organisms such as fish, shellfish, and plankton. The accumulation of these fibers cause internal damage in these creatures and ultimately travel up the food chain causing harm to humans.  


Fast Fashion has created a culture of disposable fashion. A relentless cycle of manufacturing and discarding low price and low quality garments. Its estimated that fast fashion brands produce over 52 micro collections a year and over 100 billion garments are produced each year. Overproduction of clothes leads to waste as the unsold items end up in the landfills. 

Low quality pieces do not last more than a couple of washes before we are forced to throw them away. In the EU on average a piece of clothing is only worn 7 times before they are disposed. Much of the textile waste can not be recycled and caused majour problems as synthetic fibers are not biodegradable. Even natural fabrics waste cause pollution as they emit greenhouse gas such as methane when decomposing. Additionally, the chemicals used in textile manufacturing can leach into soil and water, contaminating ecosystems and posing risks to human and animal health.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions:

Fashion industry is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for about 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions per year. Most of our cloths are produced in countries such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan where a large portion of energy is generated by coal burning which is a major carbon dioxide emitter. Also much of our cloths are composed fully or partly of synthetic fibers which use fossil fuels. Such fabrics are energy intensive to produce. The garments produced offshore must then be transported to the retail destination via ship, plan or trucks. This adds further to the CO2 footprint. 

Hope you found this article useful. We will discuss the social impact of the fashion industry next week. 

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