3 ways your clothes are killing the planet (and how to help)
If you’re anything like me then you think a lot about your impact on the world. Everything you do impacts the environment somehow. Clothing is just another thing in your life that has immense impacts on the natural world. Now nobody is perfect, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t become completely low impact. I know I need to work on my clothing shopping, and there’s no shame in that. But just knowing how everything works and how your daily life affects the planet does help, and you’ll find you naturally become more conscious of your choices once you know how everything is linked.
So here are three ways the clothes you wear affect the planet. There is no perfectly green item of clothing, but hopefully you can make more informed choices after reading this.
Microplastics are tiny particles of plastic that measure less than 5mm in size. You’ll find them as tiny beads in your face wash, as glitter, or as degraded pieces of larger plastic items like plastic bags or bottles, but that isn’t all.
Fabric materials like polyester, nylon, acrylic, and spandex, are made out of plastic drawn out into fibres. You might think it doesn’t matter, but unfortunately, the plastic doesn’t stay in your clothes.
Every time you wash your clothes, some of these fibres come out of the clothing and enter the water system. Again you might be thinking “What’s the big deal?”
It's estimated that you release 900 plastic fibres into the water ways each time you do laundry! Photo from Wix.
These tiny particles of plastic are plastic at the end of the day – they don’t degrade, they just get smaller. That means they become food-sized for many oceanic creatures, particularly filter-feeders, like mussels and baleen whales. While research into microplastics is sparse (and slowly gaining researchers), it’s likely that they get stuck inside the digestive tracts of these animals and cause them harm.
Aside from taking up space in these animals, plastic has the ability to sorb toxins. That means any chemicals that get dumped into the ocean stick to these plastics and may have toxic effects on the animals that eat them.
So what can you do? When you’re out shopping for clothes, opt for fabrics like cotton, silk or wool – they’re natural so they biodegrade and won’t stick around forever.
2. Carbon footprint
Think about the journey of your clothing. Where did all of your clothes come from? How did they get to you? How were they made?
They came from somewhere. Were they made elsewhere and imported to your country? If so, they probably have a carbon footprint through the roof.
In 2016 transport by water was responsible for 0.839 gigatonnes (839 thousand million tonnes!) of carbon emissions! Photo from Wix.
In 2016, transport was the source of a quarter of all carbon emissions. A Boeing 747 uses 7840kg of fuel JUST for the take off! The emissions of cargo ships aren’t much better. And once at the destination country, clothing needs to be transported across the country via the road. Basically, the further your clothes have had to travel, the fatter their carbon footprint. So opt for local clothing, or even clothing originating closer to your home country. Every kilogram of carbon counts!
3. Poisonous production
All kinds of fabric have their issues. Here’s a round-up to help you make informed decisions next time you get clothes.
Nylon and polyester, apart from being plastic, use incredible amount of energy and water in the manufacturing process. The production of Nylon also emits Nitrous Oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times stronger than CO2!
Cotton uses the most pesticides in its production, and those can have negative effects on ecosystems by affecting pollinator populations (bees!).
You might even want to look in how your cotton fabric was grown. Organic isn't always better than traditional agriculture. Photo from Wix.
Fabrics are bleached and dyed to get some colour. Both of these processes involve toxic chemicals that, if they get into ecosystems, could cause a lot of harm. There isn’t really a way to get around this because it’s difficult to find clothes that haven’t been dyed at all.
Check out your local second hand shop - you might just find a few gems. Photo from Wix.
There is only so much you can do to reduce your impact when it comes to buying new clothes, which is why buying pre-loved clothes is your best option when it comes to low-impact shopping. The damage has already been done so you don’t have to feel bad about adding to the problems caused by fast fashion. You won’t be the cause for new clothes to be produced, and you can find some solace in that. Check out Facebook market place and see if what you want might pop up. Take a trip to your local second-hand shop for that proper shopping feel and see what gems you find. After all, vintage is in.
You could also take to repairing damaged items instead of throwing them out and replacing them. If your jeans have ripped, why not turn them into denim shorts? The potential of old clothes is endless!
Keen on getting a new crop top? Take inventory of your closet and see what you could alter to make the perfect, guilt-free fit. You have so much room to get creative and keep up with trends by altering stuff you already have.
You might never have the perfectly low-impact closet, but what's to stop you from trying?
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