Quantcast
Business

Fast Fashion: Cheap Clothes = Huge Environmental Cost

Fast fashion brands may be killing the planet, a Newsweek investigation revealed earlier this month.

Clothes which are processed to get them on the market as quickly as possible—a model favored by H&M, Zara's, and Forever 21—come at a very high environmental cost, with millions of tons of clothes winding up in trash bins, incinerators and landfills.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 84 percent of discarded clothes winds up in an incinerator or landfill.

Popular clothing chains are trying to mask the environmental impacts by launching programs that claim to recycle clothes. But Newsweek found that these programs are not helping at all.

In April, H&M announced it is accepting donations of used clothes from customers and recycle them to create a new fiber, and thus new clothes. However, only 0.1 percent of all clothing received by charities and programs that recycle clothes is actually recycled, H&M's Development Sustainability Manager Henrik Lampa admitted.

H&M's program is also remarkably similar to that used by Goodwill, Newsweek noted.

Fast-fashion outlets are exacerbating the problem because very few secondhand stores or websites selling used clothes, such as thredUP, will accept items purchased from Forever 21 and other stores like it due to its poor quality.

This means more unwanted clothing is adding to the national trash pile. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 84 percent of discarded clothes winds up in an incinerator or landfill.

Fast fashion is the second dirtiest global industry after oil. Since 2011, Greenpeace has been running its Detox campaign to urge global fashion production houses to eliminate hazardous chemicals from clothes.

The problem is further exacerbated by the increased speed of trend turnover. The fast-fashion outlets, due to their quick and voluminous output, are changing trends very quickly to stimulate more sales. However, this means that recent purchases will go out of style sooner than ever before, which means more clothes in the trash bin.

Natural fibers—which include silk, linen, cotton and semi-synthetic fibers (think modal, rayon and Tencel)—have a similar decomposition process to food which yields methane. But it's impossible to compost these clothes.

"They've been bleached, dyed, printed on, scoured in chemical baths," Sustainable Apparel Coalition CEO Jason Kibbey said.

The chemicals are likely to seep into groundwater if placed in a landfill or permeate the air if sent to an incinerator. This is only one of seven reasons to hate fast fashion, EcoWatch reported in November 2015.

Other materials like acrylic, nylon and polyester have a petroleum base, which means it could take many hundreds of years to fully decompose.

The problem is further intensified by Americans' growing consumption of clothing, which has doubled to 14 million tons per year in less than two decades.

How damaging is this consumption to the environment? The EPA believes that if Americans were to recycle all of their unwanted clothing, it would have the same environmental impact as removing 7.5 million cars from American highways.

There are organizations that are attempting to put a dent into this clothing waste.

Housing Works, based in New York, has sponsored a clothing recycling program which has kept approximately 6.4 million pounds of clothing out of landfills since 2011. The organization sells these clothes in several secondhand shops. However, 6.4 million pounds is only 0.3 percent of the 200,000 tons of clothes in New York being thrown out each year.

For those living outside New York, the more obvious choice for recycling old clothes is Goodwill or the Salvation Army. However, only 20 percent of clothes donated to these organizations are resold, according to the Council for Textile Recycling. But Salvation Army maintains that it sells between 45 percent and 75 percent of its donations, while Goodwill says it sells 30 percent, and Housing Works claims to sell 40 percent.

"When it doesn't sell in the store, or online, or outlets, we have to do something with it," Michael Meyer, vice president of donated goods retail and marketing for Goodwill Industries International, told Newsweek.

So the clothes are often bundled up and sent off to companies which recycle textiles.

There just isn't adequate demand for clothes in the U.S. to warrant the amount of clothes that are being produced, Georgetown University economics professor Pietra Rivoli said.

"People feel like they are doing something good, and the problem they run into in a country such as the U.S. is that we don't have people who need [clothes] on the scale at which we are producing," Rivoli said.

One solution to the problem may be closed-loop sourcing which Marie-Claire Daveu told Vogue is the "holy grail for sustainability in fashion."

"Reuse old materials. Make new materials out of old materials. Recapture the fibers," Daveu, who works for worldwide luxury holding company Kering, said.

This technology may not be ready for another 10 years, and may only work on textiles which have never been dyed.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
Pexels

Tackling Climate Change Requires Healing the Divide

Canadian climate change opinion is polarized, and research shows the divide is widening. The greatest predictor of people's outlook is political affiliation. This means people's climate change perceptions are being increasingly driven by divisive political agendas rather than science and concern for our collective welfare.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Westend61 / Getty Images

EcoWatch Gratitude Photo Contest: Submit Now!

EcoWatch is pleased to announce its first photo contest! Show us what in nature you are most thankful for this Thanksgiving. Whether you have a love for oceans, animals, or parks, we want to see your best photos that capture what you love about this planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Pexels

10 Chefs Bringing Forgotten Grains Back to Life

Millets are a staple crop for tens of millions of people throughout Asia and Africa. Known as Smart Food, millets are gluten-free, and an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron, zinc and dietary fiber. They can also be a better choice for farmers and the planet, requiring 30 percent less water than maize, 70 percent less water than rice, and can be grown with fewer expensive inputs, demanding little or no fertilizers and pesticides.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Háifoss waterfall is situated near the volcano Hekla in the south of Iceland. FEBRUARY / Getty Images

The Essential Guide to Eco-Friendly Travel

By Meredith Rosenberg

Between gas-guzzling flights, high-pollution cruise ships and energy-consuming hotels, travel takes a huge toll on the environment. Whether for business or vacation, for many people it's not realistic to simply stop traveling. So what's the solution? There are actually numerous ways to become more eco-conscious while traveling, which can be implemented with these expert tips.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals
Freder / E+ / Getty Images

Surprising Study: Orangutans Are Only Non-Human Primates Who Can 'Talk' About the Past

We already know that orangutans are some of the smartest land animals on Earth. Now, researchers have found evidence that these amazing apes can communicate about past events—the first time this trait has been observed in a non-human primate.

A new study published in the journal Science Advances revealed that when wild Sumatran orangutan mothers spotted a predator, they suppressed their alarm calls to others until the threat was no longer there.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Suicide rates are highest for males in construction and extraction; females in arts, design, entertainment, sports and media, the CDC found. Michelllaurence / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

CDC: Suicide Rate Among U.S. Workers Increasing

From 2000 to 2016, the suicide rate among American workers has increased 34 percent, up 12.9 per 100,000 working persons to 17.3, according to a worrisome new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Workers with the highest suicide rates have construction, mining and drilling jobs, the U.S. health officials reported Thursday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
PG&E received a maximum sentence for the 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion. Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Report: 90% of Pipeline Blasts Draw No Financial Penalties

A striking report has revealed that 90 percent of the 137 interstate pipeline fires or explosions since 2010 have drawn no financial penalties for the companies responsible.

The article from E&E News reporter Mike Soraghan underscores the federal Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA) weak authority over the fossil fuel industry for these disasters.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Nevada Test and Training Range. U.S. Air Force / Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum

U.S. Navy Proposes Massive Land Grab to Test Bombs

Friday the U.S. Navy released details of a plan to seize more than 600,000 acres of public land in central Nevada to expand a bombing range. The land under threat includes rich habitat for mule deer, important desert springs and nesting sites for raptors like golden eagles.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!