How Fast Fashion Contributes to Climate Change — And What YOU Can Do About It

  • addressing how the fashion industry became a top emitter of greenhouse gas emissions and where exactly these emissions come from,
  • explaining other ways fast fashion harms the environment, and
  • specifying how you can reduce your carbon footprint when it comes to fashion and clothing
Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

A Quick History Lesson — How We Got Here

Before fast-fashion came about, new styles were usually only launched four times a year to match the seasons because of how long it took to produce the clothes. However, in the early 1990s, Zara opened in New York and boasted of its fast process that could go from the design phase to stores within two weeks. This soon sparked a chain reaction of retailers like H&M, Forever 21, and more producing cheap clothing in short amounts of time.

Where the Emissions Come From

The majority of emissions comes from two different categories: the production of the clothing and consumer use (after you purchase it).

Source: World Resources Institute
Table showing CO2 emissions based on different types of fiber and their energy consumption (source)

Emissions From the Production Phase

Let’s start with tiers 4 and 3 (raw material extraction and processing). This is where the raw materials, in this case, cotton, needed for the t-shirt are cultivated and then taken from their original location and processed into fibers or yarn.

Emissions From the Use Phase

When you own clothes, several emissions come from washing, drying, and wearing them. Eventually, unrecycled clothing ends up in a landfill, polluting the Earth.

A breakdown of what tiers contribute the most to emissions (source)

So… What Can You Do?

Despite how seemingly big this problem is, you can create an impact. Because such a large part of the emissions come from the use phase alone, there are action items you can take to reduce your carbon footprint when it comes to fashion.

Wash your clothes at a lower temperature

Remember, the more energy it takes to heat up the water, the higher your carbon footprint. By lowering the temperature you wash your clothes in from 60° C (140° F) to 40° C (104° F), you can cut the carbon footprint of the use phase by 45%

Don’t throw away your clothes!

Less than 1% of the material used to produce clothing is recycled. In fact, 60% of all clothing made is thrown away within one year. (This is like one garbage truck full of clothing being thrown in a landfill every second!)

Check the Material

Like I said earlier, different types of fibers contribute differently to the release of GHGs. Therefore, it’s important to be conscious about what types of material you’re buying in the clothes you wear. Avoid synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester, and try and wear more organic materials like organic cotton.

One Last Thing…

Hi, I’m Adeola! I’m a 16-year-old innovator who loves tech and the environment. Want to talk?

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Adeola Ojuade

Adeola Ojuade

Innovator at The Knowledge Society (TKS)