How the Fashion Industry is Killing our Wetlands
World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on 02 February, since 1971. The purpose of this day is to raise public awareness about the importance and value of wetlands.
What are wetlands and why are they important?
Wetlands is an area of land where water completely covers or is present at the surface of the soil. Wetlands are a diverse ecosystem, home to a large number of wildlife like fish, birds such as geese & ducks, and amphibians such as frogs. Wetlands are also essential to our climate, the theme for World Wetlands Day 2019 is climate change.
The impact of human actions is creating an unstable Climate, we are experiencing extreme fires, floods, hurricanes and droughts and wetlands are one of the most important and diverse ecosystems on earth that we need to protect.
Wetlands help moderate the climate offering protection from natural disasters like flooding by redirecting water downstream to drain properly. Wetlands lessen the human footprint on the environment by protecting the soil from pollution through being a natural filtration system as well as reducing carbon emissions in the air through being a wealthy source of nutrients for trees. When the climate around the wetland is dry, the soil holds the water, preventing drought and allowing food to still grow.
The fast fashion industry is causing wetland areas to disappear.
Wetlands provide essential irrigation for cotton farming, resulting in major issues with pollution. Through pesticides and fertilisers leaking into this ecosystem (like our oceans), it has a detrimental and lasting impact killing plants, animals and other organisms that live in the wetlands.
Some stats on cotton production.
A little under half of all apparel is made of cotton, adding up to 90% of the natural fibres used in the textile industry. and while cotton is a more sustainable fibre to polyesters and microfibres, it's harmful to the world's water supply.
Some stats on the environmental impact of a T-shirt.
- For the production of just one T-shirt it takes 2,720 litres of water or the equivalent of 3 years worth of drinking water
- ⅓ pound of pesticides and herbicides are used to grow the cotton used in just one T-shirt
- According to the World Bank, 17-20% of industrial water pollution is due to textile dyeing and treatment
- Reusing one pound of cotton prevents the emission of more than 7 pounds of carbon dioxide or driving your car for 7 miles
The volume of water consumed by apparel production each year is currently around 79 billion cubic metres or 32 million olympic swimming pools. The Global Fashion Agenda and Boston Consulting Group predict that overall apparel consumption will have risen by 63 percent in 2030, that’s the equivalent to 500 billion more T-shirts.
Five hundred billion more T-shirts! With the global population currently at 7.2 billion, do we really need 500 billion more T-shirts?
We, as consumers, need to make fast fashion brands more accountable and demand transparency. Some of the larger textile mills discard as much as 2 million gallons of toxic wastewater per day into surrounding freshwater sources. Even before production of a garment, cotton farming requires pesticides and fertilisers with runoff of these chemicals ending up in our rivers, lakes and wetlands.
So how can we, as consumers, help create change?
Through education and awareness of alternative fibres that not only alleviate water waste but don’t require harmful chemicals during production, fibres such as;
- Organic cotton is grown without harmful fertilisers or pesticides, the soil and groundwater aren’t contaminated by toxic runoff
- Tencel, a fibre made from wood pulp cellulose, is produced in a closed-loop system where the chemicals and solvents used to break down the wood pulp are recycled, using up to 20 times less water than cotton
- Monocel fibre is bamboo based that grows naturally in abundance and does not require any irrigation, pesticides or fertilizers. Processed with a closed loop lyocell technique significantly reduces water consumption and eliminates the use of hazardous chemicals.
Research from wrap.org.uk states that extending the average life of clothes (2.2 years) by just three more months would lead to a 5-10% reduction in each of the carbon, water, and waste footprints of that item of clothing.
What might seem like small and inconsequential actions from us, the consumer, collectively contributes to a larger movement. Awareness, followed by action makes a difference.
So, whether we choose to check the tag for sustainable fabrics or recycle our cotton clothes, we have a say in protecting our planet, because every purchase we make is a chance to vote for the future we want to see.
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Photos by John Westrock, Paulo Silva & Jeff Sheldon, Unsplash