• What Are the Most Polluting Industries? - Fashion

Air Monitoring

What Are the Most Polluting Industries? - Fashion

Jan 25 2022

It might come as a surprise to some that the clothing and textiles industries are among the most polluting on the planet. However, the sector contributes as much as 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the world, as well as being responsible for various other types of air pollution. What’s more, the disposable nature of modern consumer culture means that it generates a substantial amount of waste, as well.

Indeed, it’s the concept of “fast fashion” that is proving most costly to the environment from a clothing perspective. The constant need to update one’s wardrobe, discarding perfectly good garments for others that are trendier, is a terrible drag on resources and a huge contributor towards household waste. Meanwhile, the fact that many modern-day garments are manufactured from cheap materials and produced in countries where eco-standards are lacking are other causes for concern.

The consequences of fast fashion

These days, it has become highly unfashionable to wear an item of clothing until the end of its lifespan. Indeed, many people buy a t-shirt, dress or other garment with the express intention of wearing it just once before throwing it away. This culture of instant gratification and the constant need to impress has led to an excessively high turnover of products in the clothing industry.

Furthermore, this apparel is all too often made from cheap and low-quality materials which carry a high plastic content. Even while they are being used, they can expel tiny microplastics into the environment through the process of washing and drying, with the particles eventually finding their way into the ocean. Scientists are already working on advanced techniques to address this growing problem, but the best solution would be to stop it at source.

Meanwhile, the fact that many of the factories which produce these clothes are in impoverished countries is another troubling aspect of the industry. Though the labour is cheaper in such places, the environmental standards are also generally laxer and the factories which produce the clothing generally rely on damaging forms of energy generation, such as coal and oil. This contributes further to their pollution footprint.

What can be done?

In order for the fashion industry to enhance its environmental credentials, major brands must take responsibility for the pollution they create. While many do currently have Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) standards in place, they sometimes comprise nothing more than box-ticking exercises which do not go to the heart of the problem.

Meanwhile, consumers can also do their bit to improve their own performance. That means shunning low-cost and low-quality clothing options in favour of ones which have been built to last – and using them until the end of that lifespan. Searching out garments made from all-natural materials (such as wool, silk, linen and cotton) rather than synthetic ones (like polyester, spandex and nylon) is another way to reduce the amount of plastic entering our environment.

If you really do no have further use for a product but it still has some life left in it, you should give it a new home by selling it or donating it to a charity shop. While you’re there, you could even pick up some second-hand wardrobe options of your own to maximise the lifespan of someone else’s clothing, too.

If you have an interest in learning more about how industry contributes to pollution through the emissions it generates, the CEM Conference is taking place virtually this year. Those keen to attend can sign up online and attend via video link in March to expand their knowledge on the subject.


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