Fast fashion is harmful to the environment, experts say

Juana Garcia/The Cougar

The fast fashion industry is a key cause of clothing waste resulting in landfills being overfilled and greenhouse gas emissions increasing.

 The production and effects of fast fashion are no different from single-use disposable plastics.  Used a few times, discarded and then eventually polluting the environment. 

In short terms, fast fashion is defined as an approach to producing trendy designs quickly and affordable to consumers. However, the environmental effects put this production in a negative light, according to experts

Madeleine MacGillivray, Seeding Sovereignty climate advocate and plastics campaign coordinator, shared that fast fashion impacts the environment throughout all production phases. 

“Most of the fast fashion is made from synthetic textiles,” MacGillivray said. “So that just means plastic which comes from oil and gas. When it’s produced, greenhouse gas emissions are generated.”

MacGillivray said that typically the garments people purchase for lower costs and are used only a few times, end up shedding lots of plastic microfibers into the environment, making up 35 percent of the overall microplastics. 

MacGillivray highlights the lack of compensation factory workers in the industry receive alongside the harsh working conditions are another factor to the issues within its production process. 

“Social justice implications of fast fashion are really a critical component to this,” MacGillivray said. “So when we fight for more sustainably made clothes, we should really just as much if not more be fighting for a livable wage and safe working conditions for the people who make our clothes.”

Where these large amounts of synthetic textiles eventually get ‘dumped’ in are in landfills in countries outside of the U.S. and Europe, such as Ghana and Chile, MacGillivray said. The unusable clothing deteriorates into their oceans, becoming toxic waste in the environment.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              “Oftentimes these countries have less sort of power and are less developed in the sense that it’s hard for them to say no,” MacGillivray said. “So I think that all of these clothes are having a detrimental effect on people who are not responsible for getting these clothes.”  

Staff scientist at Healthy Gulf, Naomi Yoder details how the production affects the environment even beyond the microplastics.  

“Once the plastic is made, then we have several scenarios where those chemicals can enter the environment,” Yoder said. “That garment will start to break down over time and could also attract animals to eat it.”

Yoder stated that essentially what happens is a biological and weathering process co-occurring. The material, plastic polymer, gets broken down and further distributed throughout the environment and transformed into chemicals.  

“Houston is the export capital for polyethylene which is like the building block for a lot of plastic materials,” Yoder said. “There are other chemicals that are produced along the Gulf Coast. It’s especially important for us to think about limiting production so we can have healthier communities.” 

Ethically made clothing can carry a higher price compared to the mass production of cheaper garments, so the question now is how to be sustainable in clothing and garment purchases. 

 “Politicians have to enact legislation that demands companies to change, and technology and design need to improve so that things are made way more efficiently and items and materials are innovated in such a way that uses less energy, don’t use nearly as much plastic and can be upcycled and recycled,” MacGillivray said.

MacGillivray stated that college is a unique place for community, a foundation of solutions and finding people who are like-minded and can demand change from sharing that emotional burden of the impact of fast fashion. Whether it be organizing around campus, hosting clothing swaps and living a sustainable life to halt the climate crisis. 

“Fast fashion is accelerating many negative aspects of our world,” said biochemistry freshman Tarun Pandey. “For example, climate change and exploitation of workers is increasing including child labor. Many of the youth are unaware of fast fashion and the detrimental and irreversible effects that it has.  A lot of them contribute to fast fashion as trend cycles change so quickly. Clothes weren’t massed produced as they are now.”

Pandey shared his ways of combatting feeding into fast fashion including shopping secondhand/ thrifting at local Goodwill bins.

MacGillivray emphasized that the realities of seeing change lie within companies producing less and consumers purchasing a lot less. 

“I also think that there is a beauty in understanding our own agency,” MacGillivray said. “Kind of my main message is when you think about what can I do to try and help fight the climate crisis or to help fight social injustice, its a really personal answer.”

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