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Last updated: 28 March 2024

Fast Fashion: The Second Largest Polluter in The World

The Negative Environmental Impact & SCAP Initiative

In recent years, the fashion industry, in general, has brought a massive negative impact on the environment that many people may not be aware of. Fast Fashion was recently born to describe the trend of low-cost, highly fashionable garments sold by giant brands, which led to accelerated environmental damage.

The allure of affordable, trendy clothing that's constantly changing has captivated consumers and revolutionized the fashion industry. However, beneath the glitz and glamour lies a dark truth. Fast fashion has emerged as the second largest polluter on our planet, leaving a trail of environmental devastation. 

What is fast fashion?

In today’s world, fast fashion is a term that encapsulates a style choice and a complex web of production, consumption, and environmental repercussions. Let's peel back the layers and unravel the concept of fast fashion to understand what it truly means and its profound impact on our world.

To truly grasp the concept, one must delve beneath the surface of this trend-driven phenomenon, unlike the traditional fashion calendar, where collections were unveiled seasonally. Fast fashion brands have streamlined the process, bringing runway-inspired designs to consumers at an unprecedented speed. The essence lies in its name: rapid production and quick turnover to cater to the insatiable demand for the latest looks.

This accelerated cycle is made possible by a finely tuned supply chain from design and manufacturing to distribution. With technological advancements, brands can swiftly turn design concepts into finished garments and deliver them to stores and online platforms in weeks.

Fast Fashion Exposed - The Effects of the Growing Industry

The trend of fast fashion

Central to the fast fashion model is its ability to capitalise on trends. Runway styles and celebrity looks are rapidly replicated and made accessible to the masses, often at a fraction of the cost of high-end designer pieces. This accessibility has democratised fashion, enabling consumers to experiment with different styles and identities.

However, this democratisation comes with its own set of consequences. The breakneck speed at which trends emerge and fade encourages a culture of disposable fashion. Consumers are enticed to purchase items based on fleeting trends rather than enduring style, contributing to frequent purchases and disposals.

Fast fashion's environmental impact

The fashion industry has undergone a remarkable transformation, giving rise to the phenomenon known as "fast fashion." While this trend has increased accessibility and affordability, it has also sparked concerns about its significant environmental impact. 

The fashion industry's carbon footprint is staggering, with 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent emitted yearly. The production of fibres is the most responsible for emissions, accounting for around two-thirds of the carbon footprint of a garment. This has led to clothing being more disposable than ever. People kept their clothes for only half the time as they did in 2000.

The environmental impact comprises the depletion of non-renewable sources of emission of greenhouse gases and energy. The carbon footprint is substantial, and fast fashion's role in this cannot be underestimated. Each step contributes to the industry's environmental impact, from the extraction of raw materials to the transportation of finished products.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the fashion industry accounts for about 10% of global carbon emissions. They are making it one of the most significant contributors among all sectors. The annual CO2 emissions from the fashion industry are estimated.

The fashion industry's contribution to climate change accounts for 8-10% of global emissions.

Statistics on the fashion industry's CO2 emissions

Water Pollution

The fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water. It requires about 700 gallons to produce one cotton shirt and 2,000 gallons of water for a pair of jeans. 

Ranking of textile dyeing and finishing industry as a water polluter:

  • The textile dyeing and finishing industry is a significant contributor to water pollution. Textile production is estimated to be responsible for about 20% of global clean water pollution from dyeing and finishing products.
  • The fashion industry, including textile dyeing and finishing, is responsible for about 20% of all global wastewater.

Percentage of global wastewater attributed to the fashion industry:

  • The fashion industry is responsible for about 20% of all global wastewater. 
  • Water pollution from the fashion industry results from textile factories dumping untreated toxic wastewater directly into waterways.
  • Several textile companies, including Gap and Brooks Brothers, dump their used wastewater into rivers, contaminating freshwater sources.

Landfills

Consumption patterns contribute to a large amount of clothing waste in landfills. This is due to cheap materials and hasty manufacturing practices. 

Impact of fast fashion on landfills:

  • Fast fashion contributes to a significant increase in clothing waste during the festive periods. Last year, £3.5 billion was spent on Christmas party clothes in the UK alone, resulting in 8 million items being sent to landfills.
  • The drop in garment prices over the last 20 years has led to a continuous accumulation of cheap garments, resulting in more clothes.
  • The fashion industry is known for the millions of clothes ending up in landfills daily. 

Statistics on the amount of clothing sent to landfills:

  • Approximately 64% of the 32 billion garments produced yearly are in landfills. In America alone, an estimated 11.3 million tons of textile waste, equivalent to 85% of all textiles, end up in landfills yearly
  • Approximately 1 in 2 people throw their unwanted clothes directly in the trash.
  • The carbon footprint is influenced by the amount of waste sent to landfills and by CO2 emissions during manufacturing and transportation processes.

We at GreenMatch care about promoting sustainability and giving good examples of that. Going green can be big or small: you can install solar panels in your home, an air source heat pump, new energy-efficient windows, or something as simple as embracing the plastic straw ban. We help you with making guides on, for instance, solar panel prices and heat pump costs.

The infographic we created here highlights the significant negative impact of the fashion industry on the environment. Next, we describe the SCAP initiative that brought together giant brands, governments, and communities to change how the fashion industry operates and make it more sustainable.

Infographic about fast fashion as the second largest polluter in the world

If you find the infographic relevant and interesting, feel free to use the embed code below.

The Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) was founded in the UK in 2007. Led by Wrap (Waste & Resources Action Programme), over 300 organisations and leading brands, including Nike, Adidas, and Marks & Spencer, signed for the SCAP plan.

The SCAP had specific targets in 2020 that aim to reduce the emission of CO2 and water pollution that result from the production of garments and to limit the level of waste in landfills. The plan exceeded its target of reducing water use and was on track to meet its 2020 carbon targets.

Despite the end of the SCAP initiative, the work towards sustainable fashion continues with the launch of Textiles 2030, the sector's newest voluntary agreement. This initiative aims to build on the foundations of SCAP and develop a UK-focused climate strategy.

Evidence of younger generations already opting for more sustainable products and business practices, subsequently shaping the business landscape. Therefore, action plans like SCAP are crucial for the longevity of a green movement and to further encourage companies to adopt sustainable practices.

Fast-fashion textile 2030

Sustainable fashion Impact

The fashion industry's impact on the environment is significant. It is essential to take action to reduce it. Here are some things that individuals can do to help:

Reduce consumption: The most effective step you can take in the fight against fast fashion is to curtail your purchasing habits. By consciously evaluating whether you genuinely need a new outfit and if it will be worn multiple times. You can, therefore, significantly contribute to reducing fast fashion's environmental impact.

Buy second-hand: Buying second-hand clothes is a great way to reduce the environmental impact. It reduces the demand for new clothes and keeps clothes out of landfills.

Choose sustainable brands: Look for brands prioritising sustainability and ethical production practices. These brands often use eco-friendly materials and production methods and pay their workers fair wages.

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