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Organic Consumers Association

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Care What You Wear

Fast-Fashion's Environmentally Destructive Habits

The industry is becoming one of the world's biggest polluters.

Style has its hazards. From credit card debt to painfully high heels, many trends have proven the idea that fashion comes at a cost. Each decade of outfits has a concerning global impact. Now, a recent study from the Ellen Macarthur Foundation illuminates the incomprehensible toll fashion takes on the climate.

Done in collaboration with animal-welfare advocate and high-end clothing designer Stella McCartney, the Macarthur study tracks the environmental devastations incurred through the production of next season’s wares.

The study calls this fashion’s tendency to “take-make-and-dispose,” also known as fast fashion. It’s an obsession with new style wherein unworn clothing is quickly turned over, and a garbage truck's worth of fashion is thrown away every second of the year. If the industry keeps up like this, by 2050, textiles and garments will account for a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.

It’s also estimated that half a million tons of plastic microfibers are leaked into earth’s oceans each year, as synthetic materials are laundered and microparticles of plastic eventually travel into the ocean. This is the equivalent of 50 billion plastic water bottles, contributing to a health crisis for sea animals, which are ingesting plastics as if they were plankton.  

In order to remedy the heavy-handed consequences of fast fashion, the foundation has offered a four-part approach: asking stakeholders to phase out the use of hazardous materials, improve the recycling of old fabrics, use renewable resources in manufacturing, and increase the quality of goods it sells.

The authors envision creating a “new textile economy,” though it is worth noting that some corporate entities are already changing their business practices with climate change in mind.

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