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How Looking Good Can be Bad for the Environment

ClutterOne of the hottest trends of the last few years has been the movement to simplify and declutter. We’ve all heard of people who have so much stuff, that they have storage units to keep things they no longer have room for where they live. It’s a vicious cycle in a consumption-driven economy.  And, we’re bombarded by marketing aimed at convincing us why we need more. The truth is, decluttering can be good for the environment as well as good for the soul.

Personally, I have a lot of stuff. Having lived in my home since 1983, I not only have my stuff but stuff from family members gathering dust in my basement too. When I walked through my house to take stock of what to keep and what to find a new home for, perhaps one of the hardest things for me, (although easy for some), is letting go of old clothes. There’s a guideline I’ve read numerous times, that if you haven’t worn something in 6 months to a year, you probably won’t, so give it away. Six months! I still have clothes I’ve kept from the 1980s, just because I love them. For me, letting go isn’t as easy as it sounds.

De-cluttering has been shown to be good for our personal health and good for the environment. #decluttering #fashion #health #environmentClick To Tweet

Because I care deeply about the environment, the question always is what to do with the items I no longer use. If the clothes I give away can be used and appreciated by someone, I’m happy. Then there are the things that no-one wants or are no longer usable and there’s no choice but to throw them in the garbage. And, therein lies the dilemma.

The Fast Fashion Industry and the Environment

What is fast fashion, anyway? The Merriam Webster dictionary defines it as “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.” While people bought 60 per cent more garments in 2014 than in 2000, they only kept the clothes for half as long! A confirmation of the disposable mentality that permeates our culture.

The fast fashion industry is the 2nd largest polluter in the world, after the oil industry. It is responsible for 10 per cent of humanity’s carbon emissions. This total is more emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. The industry also dries up water sources and pollutes rivers and streams.

Fast Fashion_Environmental Pollution

The shocking stat is that 85 per cent of all textiles go to the dump each year. You read that right! And washing some types of clothes, particularly polyesters, (which is pervasive in much of the fashion industry), sends thousands of bits of plastic into the ocean. In fact, just washing our clothes releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year — the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles!

The shocking statistic is that 85% of all textiles end up in landfills, adding to environmental pollution! #textiles #pollution #environmentClick To Tweet

Fast Fashion and the Danger to Human HealthFashion Factory Workers

Hopefully the above paints a stark reality of how thanks to fast fashion, we might be looking good, but it can be disastrous for the environment. Along with its environmental impact, fast fashion negatively affects the people who wear it, and those who make it too.

Fast fashion garments can be full of lead, pesticides, and a multitude of other chemicals; chemicals that almost never break down and continue releasing their toxins into the air. And, because our skin is the largest organ of the body, when we wear poorly made items, we face an added danger to our health from the chemical exposure. Just like we strive to reduce our plastic consumption, it’s crucial to be conscious of our fast fashion consumption too.

Fast fashion garments pose a serious threat to human health! #health #fastfashionClick To Tweet

Fast Fashion and its Negative Impact on the Environment 

Fast Fashion_Environmental Pollution

Fast fashion negatively impacts the environment in the following key areas:

•Water Pollution

•Water Consumption

•Microfibers in our Oceans

•Waste Accumulation

•Chemical Use

•Green House Gas Emissions

•Soil Degradation

•Rainforest Destruction

So, what can we do? Not only does Sustain Your Style offer a comprehensive outline of how the environment is negatively impacted by the fashion industry in the above areas, but they also offer doable solutions consumers can adopt as well.

The Emergence of Slow Fashion

Although fast fashion is prevalent, there’s a hopeful counter-trend emerging in the fashion industry too. Just like the food industry developed a “Slow” movement, so has the fashion industry evolved its own slow movement. Slow Fashion.

According to Good On You, “Slow Fashion is an awareness and approach to fashion, which considers the processes and resources required to make clothing, particularly focusing on sustainability. It involves buying better-quality garments that will last for longer and values fair treatment of people, animals and the planet.”

Making Environmentally Conscious Clothing Choices 

Many companies like Patagonia are committed environmental leaders in all areas of business, making it easy for consumers to be better environmental stewards with their clothing purchases. Good On You even has an app to help consumers determine whether brands are sustainable, making sustainable fashion choices easier than ever. There’s a growing number of eco-friendly Canadian brands and local Toronto eco-friendly retailers as well.

Choosing sustainable and environmentally conscious brands is one way each of us can reduce our fashion footprint! #fashion #sustainability #clothingClick To Tweet

To ensure you’re buying the healthiest fashion options, check for the GOTS certification (Global Organic Textile Standard), which examines the chemical inputs into the entire fabric creation process. Curious how clean, (or dirty), your closet is?

Another brand, thredUP has a great fashion footprint calculator that will show you how much your closet contributes to climate change.

Looking good and being environmentally conscious are now compatible goals for all who care how their actions impact the environment. In York Region even clothing, shoes and textiles that aren’t able to be donated can still go to fabric recycling. Check Bindicator to see where you can donate or recycle fashion and fabric items.

Do you buy clothing with the environment in mind?


This article originally appeared in March, 2020 on Metroland Media 

Beverley Golden

Beverley Golden is a writer, storyteller, peacenik and health & vitality consultant, who loves testing unconventional ways to shift paradigms in the playing fields of health and wellness, storytelling and creativity as a path to world peace. Her passion is turning the “impossible” into the possible, using her own experiences with a lifetime of health issues, to inspire and support others to live their life to the fullest. You're invited to a Complimentary Health Consultation, starting with the True Health Assessment that offers a customized personalized snapshot of how healthy you are in the areas of lifestyle, heredity and nutrition. Contact me to get started!