Each year, billions of new garments are made and millions of tons of textiles are discarded. This unrestrained overproduction and overconsumption impact our planet considerably.
Exceedingly resource intensive, the garment industry is one of the largest polluters in the world. This already alarming fact becomes even more sobering when we concede that most individuals will never know the key role they actively play—everyday—in fostering such environmental ruin.
We all own at least one pair of jeans and at least one cotton t-shirt. What if I told you—when paired together—they create the most environmentally expensive outfit you will ever wear?
Here are 18 alarming facts about the clothes we wear:
- More than 100 BILLION new pieces of clothing are made worldwide each year. (Source: McKinsey & Company)
- One single cargo ship of merchandise from overseas creates as much pollution as 50 million cars. (Source:The Guardian)
- Roughly 70-80% of clothes in the average person’s wardrobe remain unworn. (Source: Wall Street Journal)
- The average fast fashion garment (H&M, Zara, Forever 21, Asos, Primark, etc.) have a lifespan of 35 days or less than 10 wears.**
- Garments with shorter lifespan create significantly more carbon emissions than garments designed to last longer. Source: (Carbon Trust – pg.11-13, McKinsey & Co.)
- Zara alone produces 24 new clothing collections per year (Source: McKinsey & Company)
- The average American throws out roughly 81 lbs (36.7 kg) of clothes each year. (Source: HuffPost)
- More than 80% of all unwanted clothes, most of which still in wearable condition, end up in landfills, yearly. (Source: Newsweek)
- Synthetic fibers account for 60% of all clothing. (Source: Carbon Trust, Greenpeace)
- The most commonly used synthetic fabric is Polyester. Polyester is plastic; it is made from fossil fuels. Like all plastics, it does not biodegrade.**
- Synthetics release harmful microfibers every time they are washed. These microfibers eventually pollute our rivers and oceans. (Source: The Guardian)
- 70 Million barrels of gasoline are needed for the production of polyester each year. (Source: Sustainability in the Textile Industry – pg. 26)
- It takes 713 gallons of water (2700 liters) to produce one average-sized cotton t-shirt. (Source: WorldWildLife.org)
- Cotton uses more insecticides and pesticides than any other crop in the world. It accounts for less than 3% of cultivated land, yet uses roughly 23% of all insecticides.
- Rayon, also known as Viscose, is a semi-synthetic, cellulose fiber derived from trees. To make rayon, treese must be cut down.There are different kinds of rayons (some more sustainable than others), but for the most part, rayon contributes significantly to deforestation.**
- The process to make Rayon/viscose is extremely toxic. As a result, there are no rayon producers in the United States because the process does not comply with EPA rules. (Source: Auggie Tantillo, CEO Nat’l Council of Textile Organizations, via Apparel News)
- China is the largest apparel manufacturer/exporter in the world. The average Chinese garment worker makes 93 U.S cents an hour. (Source: GlobalLabourRights.org)
- Bangladesh is the second largest garment producer/exporter in the world. The average Bangladeshi worker makes only 21 U.S cents per hour. (Source: GlobalLabourRights.org)
At the moment, there are no full-proof solutions, but we can change the status quo and make noticeably improvements. We start by avoiding fast fashion altogether (this is key). We must buy significantly less and choose well. We always opt for quality over quantity and, when possible, choose natural fibers that are not resource intensive.
** Additional Sources:
- Choi, Tsan-Ming, ed.Fast fashion systems: Theories and applications. CRC Press, 2013
- Petroleum = plastic = polyester
- Why is recycled polyester considered a sustainable textile?
- If your clothes aren’t already made out of plastic, they will be
- The Water Footprint of Cotton Consumption pg. 10
- Man-Made Fibers Continue to Grow
- Deforestation for Fashion.
- Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry
- What causes climate change?
- Where Does Discarded Clothing Go?
- Well Dressed? The present and future sustainability of clothing and textiles in the United Kingdom pg. 2
- Muthu, S. S. (2015). Handbook of Sustainable Apparel Production. CRC Press. p. 158
- Inside the lonely fight against the biggest environmental problem you’ve never heard of
- Cotton: A Water Wasting Crop
- Is recycled polyester fabric recyclable?
- Beyond natural fibers