The fashion industry largely relies on water for many of its activities. From watering crops to dyeing fabric, it would be near impossible to produce a garment without water.
However, considering how much this industry relies on water, it sure isn’t doing much to protect the water sources. Did you know that the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of all industrial water pollution in the world?
Sources of water pollution
Harsh pollutants like fertilisers are first introduced into the production cycle when crops such as cotton are grown. While it’s not necessary to use these fertilisers at this early stage of production, most growers are still using them, as they are pushed to decrease the price of their crop and, therefore, do whatever they can to maximise the yield per area of land.
However, this push for lower prices, initiated mainly by the fast fashion industry, results in a lot of fashion pollution with pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers being flushed into rivers and subterranean water by rainfall and the watering of crops.
Once the material makes its way into a factory, many other chemicals are used in creating the finished garment – mainly toxic dyes. Many of the vibrant colours fast fashion stores offer today rely on these.
The people involved directly in the production process aren’t the only ones exposed to these dangerous chemicals – often, toxic wastewaters are flushed directly into rivers or lakes! Why? In many developing countries where fast fashion produces its garments, minimal environmental regulation policies prevent this from happening – and even fewer rules are enforced in practice.
The environmental impacts
All the chemicals released during production and their contribution to fashion pollution have many negative impacts.
As most are freely released into the water cycle, the entire ecosystem of organisms is in danger of being negatively affected, to the point of extinction. The aquatic ecosystems aren’t the only ones at risk. The people living near the contaminated rivers or lakes, which rely on them as their only water source, are equally affected. Lastly, traces of the chemicals used on our clothing also stay on the garments, affecting the health of anyone wearing them.
For example, azo dyes make up 60% to 70% of all dyes used by fashion. While they certainly help make the colours more vibrant, they linger in the environment for a long time and, when metabolised, are known to be carcinogenic. The remainder of these dyes also sticks to our clothing, causing skin irritation and increasing the risk of cancer.
If we want to make sure that all people have access to clean water and that aquatic ecosystems are protected, we need to stop supporting fast fashion for the sake of our planet and adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.