The production of textiles has a massive impact on the environment.

Updated: Sep 18, 2019

Raw materials are divided in three mayor groups: natural, synthetic and semi-synthetic. On our previous article, we spoke about their origin and the main natural resources used for their production.

The topic about the textiles production's environmental impact is as extensive as the fashion world, each raw material represents a whole industry in itself with its own implications regarding the environment.

The industry’s immense footprint extends beyond the use of raw materials. Below is a list of some of these implications.

- Total greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production, at 1.2 billion tons annually, are more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined

- Less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing, representing a loss of more than $100 billion USD worth of materials each year

- Textiles production (including cotton farming) uses around 93 billion cubic meters of water annually, representing 4% of global freshwater withdrawal

- Cotton production uses 2.5% of the world’s cultivable land, but accounts for16% of all pesticides used; In India 50% of all pesticides are used for cotton production,with negative impacts on farmers’ health

- Each year, around half a million tons of plastic microfibers – equivalent to more than 50 billion plastic bottles – resulting from the washing of textiles are estimated to be released into the ocean

- Of the total fiber input used for clothing, 87% is landfilled or incinerated, representing a lost opportunity of more than $100 billion USD annually

- The average number of times a garment is worn before it ceases to be used – has decreased by 36% compared to 15 years ago

- Producing plastic-based fibers for textiles uses an estimated 342 million barrels of oil every year, and the production of cotton is estimated to require 200,000 tons of pesticides and 8 million tons of fertilisers annually

- Chemical pesticides and fertilizers pollute the soil, water and air. Ruminant farm animals like sheep and goats release methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change

- Annually, 43 million tons of chemicals are used to produce textiles. The textile chemicals market is significant in its own right, valued at USD $21 billion USD in 2015 – around one-sixth of the total sales of the clothing industry – and is expected to reach $29 billion USD by 2024

- In the business as usual scenario, more than 150 million tons of clothing would be landfilled or burned in 2050. Between 2015 and 2050 the weight of these clothes would accumulate to more than ten times that of today’s world population.

It is imperative that we take action. Increasing the number of times clothes are worn could be the most powerful way to capture value, reduce pressure on resources, and decrease negative impacts to the environment. For example, if the number of times a garment is worn were doubled on average, greenhouse gas emissions would be 44% lower.

Source The Ellen MacArthur Foundation