‘Fast Fashion’: environmental impacts and what you can do as a consumer

WATCH: Ever wondered where your old and used clothing goes after it's thrown into a donation bin? Turns out there are entire industries that rely on the recycling and resale of your old garments.

Our closets are getting fuller and fuller, but we’re throwing out clothes at a faster rate too.

The biggest culprit is fast fashion, combined with our addiction to consume.

“We’ve just got into the cycle of excessive availability at really low prices,” said Kate Black, author of Magnifeco: Your Head-to-Toe Guide to Ethical Fashion and Non-Toxic Beauty.

“Fast fashion” is the trendy clothing dropping in stores and online that are coming to us cheaper, faster and sooner than ever before. Instead of following seasons, the business model for brands is to play a volume game and throw products into stores to see what will take off.

Ayesha Barenblat, the founder and president at Remake, says fast fashion is a 15- to 20-year phenomenon that we’re looking at. Some of the ramifications of fast fashion, both on human lives as well as on the planet, are just starting to be clear to us.

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What are some environmental impacts?
The quantity of new clothes being produced means stress on the environment, polluting the waters with microfibres and dyes. It takes 2,700 litres of water to make one cotton T-shirt — that’s how much water a person drinks in two-and-half years of their life.

From a climate standpoint, textile production is very carbon intensive and clothing production emits more greenhouse gases than shipping and aviation combined, Barenblat adds.

Well, what about textile waste — clothes that are simply thrown into the trash or items that didn’t get a second life? These textiles pollute groundwater, wreak havoc on the air when incinerated and contribute to high levels of methane being released as they slowly decompose.

What can you do as a consumer?
1. Try to purchase less clothing. If you don’t think you’ll wear an item more than 30 times, Barenblat suggests walking away.

2. Think twice about directly trashing your textile. If they’re clean, donate it all. Yes, all of it! Don’t worry if they’re torn or missing the pair — like gloves or socks — just bring it in. Personal items like linen, towels and even women’s bras are needed. Even if they’re not sellable, skilled sorters and graders will know what path your pre-loved goods will embark on. This will ensure that textiles are in their proper streams instead of ending up straight into the landfill.

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“There’s not enough land for our garbage, let alone for our garbage and our textiles,” Black said. “Just put it in a box and save the planet.”

Since textile donations can be re-purposed, donated items no longer have to be restricted to sweaters and old T-shirts anymore.

In 2016, the City of Markham in Canada introduced textile recycling bins that accept other items too — like old linens and yes, even that single sock. The city only partners with registered charities such as The Salvation Army, Diabetes Canada and STEPS to Recovery, who service the donation bins. 

Many charities will accept your textiles directly, even things that are too worn or torn. However, dirty or contaminated items will not be accepted.

According to The Salvation Army Thrift Store, they diverted almost 80-million pounds of textiles from local landfills this year. 

Although Value Village is a for-profit professional fundraiser, donated items that are sold in their stores fund the non-profit organizations they partner with. In addition, they also work with companies to dispose of non-recyclable items in a responsible way.

3. Wash your clothes in cold water and line dry as much as possible. How we care for our garments is also important, Barenblat said. “Microplastics are entering our soil and water, through the way we wash our clothes.”


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