Fast fashion has received a lot of criticism in recent years. As AlterNet's Glynis Sweeny explains, fast fashion fuels "rampant consumerism ... in which clothing is designed to be moved as quickly as possible from catwalk to store." And as we cycle through clothing faster and faster, the industry's environmental impact has exploded. "It is particularly worrisome," said Sweeny, "because it creates demand for and then constantly churns out massive amounts of cheap clothes, ultimately accelerating carbon emissions and global warming."
In April, Swedish-based clothing company H&M (considered a fast fashion giant) issued its annual sustainability report. While many commended the company's latest efforts, others, such as Veronica at xoJane, felt fast fashion and sustainability are simply incompatible.
"It’s almost impossible for fast-fashion and sustainability to exist under the same roof: One thrives on the rapid mass-production of trendy clothes, using cheap materials and even cheaper labor to ensure prices that customers won’t complain about; the other focuses on creating garments that will last a lifetime, from sustainable yet pricey raw materials, and, in the best case scenario, using labor that is fairly paid and production processes with limited impact on the environment."
By focusing on cutting costs wherever possible to mass-produce cheap, disposable clothing, fast fashion offers "trendy," bargain-price clothing at the expense of people and the planet. Here are seven reasons why you should hate fast fashion:
1. Cotton is a thirsty and chemically dependent plant: Cotton is the most commonly used fiber in the world, making its way into nearly 40 percent of our clothing. Though it only makes up 2.4 percent of all cropland, it uses 12 percent of all pesticides and 25 percent of insecticides.
"Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops in existence," demanding six times as much water as lettuce and 60 percent more than wheat, according to ProPublica. And yet the federal government subsidizes growing cotton in the Arizona desert.
2. Cotton alternatives aren't any better: As for common synthetic alternatives to cotton, such as polyester and nylon, they are made from petrochemicals that do not biodegrade. They require a great deal of energy to make, said Sweeny, and the manufactures of nylon emit large amounts of nitrous oxide, an incredibly potent greenhouse gas.
Recycled polyester, made from discarded plastics, uses half the energy as virgin polyester. But often times companies cannot get enough discarded plastic, so they buy unused water bottles directly from manufacturers to be able to market their product as "recycled" polyester, according to Sweeny. Fortunately, eco-friendly alternatives to these unsustainable fabrics are being developed, including products using pineapples, coconuts and bananas.
3. Garment operations, textile mills and dyeing plants are polluting waterways and endangering surrounding communities' health: Rivers around the world, but especially in Asia, where so much cheap clothing is made, are extremely polluted. Greenpeace East Asia's Detox campaign has been working to expose the textile industry's pollution and its effect on residents from Bangladesh to China to Indonesia.
4. Toxic chemicals and dangerous work conditions put factory workers at risk: For an excellent explanation on just how awful and dangerous working conditions are in garment factories, check out John Oliver's segment on fast fashion below. The Savar building collapse in 2013 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,100 people, shows just how dangerous working conditions can be.
The dangers from chemical exposure among factory workers range from acute to chronic and can ultimately lead to death. "Some dyes and chemicals, such as alum and copper sulfate, can irritate your skin and cause rashes, allergies or breathing problems," said Hesperian in its guide Hazards in Garment Factories. "Others are more dangerous, such as potassium dichromate and tanning acid, and can cause cancer as well as other health problems."
5. The chemicals in clothing linger: Chemicals, such as formaldehyde, perfluorinated chemical (PFC), nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE), p-Phenylenediamine (PPD), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and dioxin-producing bleach, are all commonly found in our clothing. And all of these chemicals have been shown to produce serious adverse health effects. Dangerous chemicals are found in kids' clothing too, according to a Greenpeace report.
6. That dress you just bought is more well traveled than you: Raw materials can be shipped from China, India or the U.S. to places like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Pakistan and the Philippines, explained Sweeny. Then, garments are put in shipping containers and sent by rail, container ships and eventually rail and trucks to the retailer. There's no way to gauge how much fuel is used in total, said Sweeny, but considering Americans buy 22 billion new clothing items every year, the fast fashion industry's emissions contribution is significant.
7. John Oliver hates fast fashion, so you should too: Oliver wanted to teach fashion CEOs a lesson for the horrible environmental and labor conditions in their factories, so he sent "suspiciously cheap" food to fashion CEOs selling "shockingly cheap" clothing.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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