When we try to consider the most energy or water greedy industries we rarely think of clothing manufacturing. Clothing always seems so clean and innocent. Today nearly 20% of all water pollution occurs through the making of regular, non-organic clothing. Resource-hungry industries; are we believe; oil companies, chemical plants, car manufacturers and so on. And it's true – they are, but they are not the only ones. In the time it takes you to read this hundreds of tonnes of new clothes will have been produced. We think of water pollution as coming from oil spills or sewer discharge. Yet clothing production is one of the biggest polluters, it is an enormous industry, representing one of the most water hungry production activities in the present day.
The days of hand-operated looms are long gone – even in third world countries. Production is mechanised and goes on into the night meaning that power is required both to operate machinery and lighting. Which in turn means that energy consumption in clothes production is very high. Sadly, that energy mostly comes from non-renewable, pollution-creating sources. The majority of clothing production isn’t an innocent craft as we are made to believe by cheerful seamstresses in idyllic surroundings. It’s a water and energy hungry industry that uses up large quantities of scarce resources.
Added to all this is the fact that non-organic clothing materials are grown using chemical fertilisers and chemical insecticides. These pollutants run off into rivers and streams – and in poorer countries where people have little to no say in what happens to their local environment; it drains off into their drinking water. Regulation in different countries to curb their most damaging excesses can be weak, badly implemented or plain non-existent. They carry on in their own way, doing as they please to ensure they hit their targets with no regard for our planet or its inhabitants. In second and third world countries the environment and its inhabitants always lose. In the long term as the climate turns against us and flooding and crop failure starts to become more common we all lose.
Since around 95% of clothing sold in the UK is imported (according to market research company Key Note) consumers may be concerned about the carbon emissions produced by the transport and distribution of garments as they typically travel here from Asian countries by sea or air freight. However, the way in which we behave towards clothing after we buy it is considered to have a much bigger impact on the environment than its transportation does.
Currently only about a quarter of our planets clothes are recycled; the rest is incinerated or goes to landfill. Recycling clothes uses much less energy, raw materials and resources than producing new clothes from scratch – meaning less fossil fuel burnt and less greenhouse gases emitted.
The more we re-use clothes the less we need to produce – and so fewer resources are used up and less carbon waste is produced. By using clothes then passing the on to be re-used we are effectively ensuring they're being utilised for 100% of their uselful lives. As consumers and parents, we can reconnect with our clothes and thus limit the negative effects of our fashion consumption. We can re-use the resources that we already have rather than further contributing to the landfill. It's simple really.
These small steps can make such a big difference!