The Environmental Cost of the Clothes We Wear.

Updated: Sep 18, 2019

Beyond the price illustrated in the label of the clothes we buy, there is another less known factor, the environmental cost.

A report by UNECE, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, has put some figures on the phenomenon. The fashion industry is the second CO2 - Carbon Dioxide- emitter in aggregate terms. Also, the fashion industry produces around 20% of the polluted water of the planet. While the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimates that the textile recycling industry recycles approximately 3.8 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste (PCTW) each year, this only accounts for approximately 15% of all PCTW, leaving 85% in our landfills.

The average US citizen throws away 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles annually.

These are numbers that reveal a gigantic burden for the planet and that are concentrated mostly in Asia.

Untreated effluent discharge from garment and dyeing factories in Dhaka has severely degraded the water quality of the Turag River, jeopardising the water security of low income settlements on the northern outskirts of the city. Photo credit: Nushrat Yeasmin/REACH

The impact is best measured if we compare it with our day to day. For example, the cotton shirt you have in your closet has cost 2,700 liters of water, more or less the amount that a normal human can ingest over two and a half years. The shirt itself does not require so much water but the crops that sustain the voracious productive cycle of the industry itself do.

The waste water full of pesticides ends up poured into rivers, mangroves, lakes and other ecosystems. In places like Bangladesh and other underdeveloped countries is a huge problem.

“Much of the Buriganga is now gone, having fallen to ever insatiable land grabbers and industries dumping untreated effluents into the river,” said Ainun Nishat, a leading environmental expert.

The Buriganga River was once the lifeline of the Bangladeshi capital.

A big issue is that we buy more clothes because clothes are produced at lower prices. A phenomenon called Fast Fashion. The quality of cheap clothes is not great meaning we dispose of the them also at a much faster rate creating another huge source of pollution.

Nowadays the clothes that arrive in our wardrobe have a lifespan 50% shorter than 15 years ago. Half of the products placed in the stores are discarded by the industry or by consumers within a year.

By 2050, the resources consumed by the industry will have tripled. And with them, the pollution generated.

What can we do about it? Buying less and reusing more is a good start.