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19 July 2017

The environmental impact of fast fashion

Fast fashion isn’t just a term used in the fashion industry. It’s now on the lips of environmentalists and environmentally concerned citizens.

The term ‘fast fashion’ is used to describe the fashion industry’s recent transformational shift whereby manufacturing processes are accelerated to introduce new trends to the market faster and more affordably. Fashion is one of the largest industries in the world, accounting for 2% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Over 80 billion new textile items are purchased globally every year which has dramatically increased by 400% over the past two decades. This industry is now the second highest polluter in the in the world, second to oil. Fast fashion is becoming an environmental crisis and we need to act now before it’s too late!

Manufactures are producing more textiles than ever before to meet consumer demands. What was once an industry that released two collections a year, has adapted to releasing 52 micro-collections annually, predominately consisting of inexpensive and low-quality garments. The stores work on a business model of low margins/high turnover luring customers into a fast fashion cycle of buying an item, wearing it only a few times before discarding it and purchasing another ‘trending’ item.

Currently, North Americans are the highest consumers of textiles in the world followed closely by Australians, purchasing approximately 27 kilograms of new fashion and textiles annually – twice the global average of 13 kilograms per person annually. 

This is what 6000 kg of fashion waste looks like. We waste this every 10 minutes in Australia. Thanks @1millionwomen for capturing this photo for ABC's War on Waste series coming soon.

What effect is this having on our planet?
Apart from significantly contributing to landfill, fast fashion production and waste impacts the environment on several levels.

Emissions and toxins:
Around two-thirds of clothing purchased is made of synthetic fibres such as acrylic, polyester and nylon, which is essentially petroleum derived plastic. This type of plastic produces tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing. The toxic dyes used to colour clothing is discolouring the rivers close to the manufacturing facilities, whereby farmers downstream are predicting the colour of the season by the river’s colour.

The most recent fast fashion environmental concern is the shedding of synthetic fibres when the garments are washed. During one machine cycle a synthetic garment can shed over 1900 fibres. These fibres which are considered microplastics are nearly impossible to see and clean up. They end up in our oceans, harming our marine life and poisoning our food supply with toxic chemicals. The Guardian coined it “the biggest environmental problem you've never heard of.”

Approximately 85% of Australian’s textile purchases are discard in landfill annually – that’s more than 500,000 tonnes every year. While the synthetic garments take thousands of years to break down, they produce microplastics in the process.

What can you do?
1. Buy clothing mage from natural fibres.
2. Buy only what you need and wear it as much as possible.
3. When you are ready to part with your clothing, swap, sell, gift it to a friend or donate it to charity. If it's well worn, cut it up and use it as cleaning rags.  
4. Purchase from sustainable and local clothing producers

Author & Editor

Tracey Bailey is the founder of Biome Eco Stores and mother of two. After working in corporate communications and starting a family, she made a choice to be part of the solution to our planet's future and started Biome Eco Stores. Tracey is passionate about educating the community about living eco-friendly and sustainable lives through her extended product, chemical, health and environmental knowledge.


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