With more than 80 billion garments produced around the world every year, what we wear has a staggering environmental impact on our planet. Let’s take a closer look at 9 facts about your clothing and the environment plus a few tips on making more sustainable choices for your wardrobe.
Clothing can take up to 40 years to biodegrade
That old leather jacket you threw out last season will take up to four decades to decompose in landfill.
Leather and nylon are two fabrics with a long time-frame for decomposition taking between 30 - 40 years to biodegrade. More biodegradable fabrics like cotton and linen can take less than five months.
If clothing can’t be donated and you’re sending it straight to the bin, cutting it up into smaller pieces first can speed up its biodegradation process.
Traditional cotton production takes around 10,000 litres to produce 1 kilogram of cotton fabric
Some cotton farmers have improved on the traditional process to significantly reduce the amount of water needed to grow cotton but it remains one of the most water intensive - and chemical intensive - fabrics on the planet to create. Needless to say, cotton clothing has a big impact on the environment.
For a greener wardrobe, choose cotton clothes that have the official organic accreditation. This means the cotton has been produced using more sustainable methods to reduce water consumption and removing the use of toxic pesticides.
Some of your clothes might be made from old plastic bottles
Recycled polyester is made by melting down existing plastic, including plastic bottles, into small plastic pellets that can be spun into new fabric fibres for re-use.
Opting for recycled polyester is a more eco-friendly choice than choosing its energy-hungry, non-sustainable cousin polyester. Polyester is produced with petrol-chemical products and like cotton, requires huge quantities of water.
Recycled polyester uses PET as the raw material saving tonnes of plastic bottles from ending up in landfills and recycling them into garments instead.
Fabric dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water around the world
It takes an estimated 8,000 synthetic chemicals to dye and brighten our clothes. The presence of chemicals in clothing dye including sulphur, naphthol, nitrates, acetic acid, chromium compounds and heavy metals like copper, arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury collectively make dye wastewater highly toxic.
The World Bank estimates that 17 to 20 percent of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and finishing treatments given to fabric.
Your donated clothes might be sold overseas
Not all clothing you donate to charity ends up in their thrift store to be sold locally.
Australians donate a huge 780,000 tonnes of clothing and goods to charity stores every year and with more supply than demand, some charities sell their excess donations to a used goods exporter or clothing salvager.
These companies buy and sort used clothing and footwear then ship it in bulk to countries like Rwanda, Kenya, and Guatemala where they are sold to communities who also benefit from lower-cost shirts, pants, and shoes.
The average ‘active use’ of a piece of clothing is between 3 - 5 years
However, research shows one in five Aussies have tossed clothing after using it just once with ABC's War on Waste series reporting Australians are sending 6,000 kilograms of clothing to landfill every 10 minutes.
Fast-pace fashion trends perpetuate the low use of a single item before it heads to the bin or is donated to charity which means your clothing has a big impact on the environment. Traditionally brands would launch collections for 2 fashion seasons, Spring / Summer and Autumn / Winter. In 2020, fast fashion brands are launching as many as 52 "micro-seasons" per year, that’s a new trend each week!
Your old clothes could become a prosthetic knee
Those t-shirts you dropped into the donation bin might find themselves a new owner in their original form, or they might be broken down to fibres and turned into something completely different.
Insulation, carpet padding, building materials, and even prosthetic knees can all be made from recycled textile waste.
It takes around 7,000 litres of water to produce a single pair of jeans
Around the world, 2 billion pairs of jeans are produced each year. Traditional jeans are made from 100 percent cotton which explains the staggering amount of water it takes to produce just one pair. You can help reduce the footprint of your next denim purchase by choosing jeans made with certified organic cotton.
Hemp and linen are two of the most sustainable natural fibres
Linen is made from flax plant fibres and flax is one of the most sustainable natural fibres in the world. Flax is grown on marginal land so it doesn’t compete with food crops, needs little water, and minimal pesticides. Linen is also one of the most biodegradable fabrics, it can break down in just a few weeks.
Hemp requires minimal land to cultivate - an acre of land will produce 2 to 3 times the amount of cotton - and no chemical herbicides or pesticides are required. It also returns 60-70% of the nutrients it takes from the soil.
Keep linen and hemp in mind when shopping for the newest addition to your wardrobe.
With more awareness about the impact of clothing on the environment, we can all play a part in making sustainable fashion choices for a greener, more planet-friendly wardrobe.
Textile dyeing industry an environmental hazard
Fast Facts – heaps of them!
Measuring Fashion - Environmental Impact Of The Global Apparel + Footwear Industries Study (2018)
Fast Fashion - 75% Of Australians Tossing Clothing In The Bin
Circular Fashion - Turning Old Clothes Into Everything From New Cotton To Fake Knees
Sustainable Fabric Guide
Environmental Benefits Of Hemp