Clothing is responsible for 3% to 6.7% of global human-caused carbon emissions. This is not only from the production of the fabric, but also the care that follows your purchase. Fashion technically falls under industry pollution, which is the process of fossil fuels to convert raw materials into metal, plastic, or textiles. Considering that globally this industry falls into the third highest position with 22%, that 6.7% sounds a lot worse now, doesn't it?
The majority of vintage shoppers come to this retail market with sustainability in mind. Vintage clothing and thrifting can mean the reuse and extended life of clothes, preventing them from contributing to any more pollutant levels. Today we’ll be going over some of the most harmful textiles to become conscious of while shopping.
A variety of products can be made from polyester including t-shirts, blankets, and bottles. It’s widely used in clothing, which isn’t a particularly good thing.
Most polyesters are non-biodegradable, taking anywhere from 20 and 200 years to break down in landfill. Polyester is partially derived from oil, which is a major source of pollution. There was an estimated 50 million tons of polyester produced in 2015, which is a huge number for one single textile.
Now take this number into mind and consider the amount of water used in this process. Polyester needs water for cooling in the energy-intensive process that polyester takes on. This process is dangerous in areas of water scarcity, meaning a reduced access to clean drinking water. The remaining water becomes contaminated by the chemical dyes used throughout the production process.
If all of this wasn’t enough, polyester also releases microplastics during washing. Each washing cycle may release over 700,000 mini plastic fibres into the environment. Microplastics add to pollution and are harmful to marine life when ingested.
Some of the most common uses for acrylic fabric are sweaters, hats, and gloves. It’s known for its warmth, which is why it's used in winter clothing. Acrylic production involves highly toxic chemicals that can be dangerous to the health of factory workers. The key ingredient, acrylonitrile, can enter the wearer’s body through skin contact or inhalation.
Additionally, acrylic is not easily recycled and can lay in a landfill for up to 200 years before biodegrading. Estimates suggest that as much as 20% to 35% of all microplastics in the ocean are fibres from use of synthetic clothing.
Typically used in clothing items such as tights and stockings, nylon is a material derived from crude oil. It’s also used to make tight clothing such as swim or active wear.
No form of nylon is biodegradable and in effect, it can sit in landfill for 20 to 200 years. Nylon is partially produced from petroleum, one of the largest and dirtiest industries. Its production creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, and it uses large amounts of water and energy. And don’t forget about the microplastics that get filtered out into our waterways.
Other fabrics to be Aware Of
Cotton may seem like a natural fibre, but its large water demand and the machinery involved in its production overweigh the positives. A quick solution is to opt for organic and recycled cotton.
Rayon is another large pollutant. It’s the origin story of greenwashing, made from dissolved plant cell walls. The fibre itself is biodegradable and non-toxic, but the way that it is manufactured can cause harm to factory workers as well as the environment. Not to mention the increased demand for deforestation in order to produce it.
Fashion’s true environmental impact touches on every industry, it’s not just the energy and pollutant levels that we have to worry about, but the environmental factors associated with each fabric (leather, wool, cotton, hemp) mining (metals and stones), construction (retail stores), shipping, and of course manufacturing.
This is why it’s becoming so important to treat our clothes as something lasting, not seasonal. Vintage shoppers are already on track, extending the life of their clothes, through re-wearing and repairing. The goal here is to shop less, if that means you’re still buying clothes made of these fibres that's okay. Not everyone is in the position to ditch all polluting fabrics. As long as you’re making a clear effort to repair and look after your clothes you can make quite a difference.
If you want to start working towards your new conscious wardrobe visit our website or in-store today.