The environmental impact of clothing can be significant, as the production, use, and disposal of clothing all come with consequences for the environment. Obviously, since we’d all like to keep wearing clothes some impacts are a tolerable trade off, but we should all be more conscious of our own choices and habits when it comes to what we buy and how we use things.
The Concerns with Clothing Production:
Water is a critical resource, and the production of clothing can be a major consumer of water. For example, cotton production is known to be a particularly water-intensive process. Cotton plants require irrigation to grow, and the processing of cotton into fabric also uses significant amounts of water. In addition, many clothing production processes, such as dyeing and finishing, require water. This can lead to water shortages in areas where clothing production is concentrated.
Many clothing production processes, such as dyeing and finishing, use chemicals that can have negative impacts on the environment. These chemicals can pollute water sources and have other repercussions on local ecosystems. Some chemicals used in the production of clothing can be toxic and harmful to human health if they are not properly disposed of. Additionally, the use of chemicals in clothing production can contribute to air pollution.
Clothing production requires energy for a variety of processes, including transportation, manufacturing, and storage. The transportation of clothing from production facilities to retail stores and warehouses can contribute to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The energy used in manufacturing and processing clothing can also contribute to pollution, depending on the source of the energy.
Clothing production generates significant amounts of waste, including fabric scraps and clothing that is discarded after only a short period of use. This waste can contribute to landfills and other environmental problems. Clothing that is thrown away after only a short period of use can take years or even decades to decompose in a landfill, contributing to the overall volume of waste in these facilities. The production of new clothing requires resources such as water, energy, and chemicals, which can be wasted if the clothing is not used or purchased for a long period of time.
Synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic are made from plastic, and when they are washed, they shed small plastic fibers that can enter waterways and oceans, contributing to microplastic pollution. Microfiber pollution is a growing concern, as these tiny plastic fibers can be ingested by marine life and enter the food chain. Microfiber pollution can have negative impacts on human health, as the fibers can be inhaled or ingested by humans. To reduce the environmental impact of microfiber pollution, it is important to choose clothing made from natural materials or to take steps to reduce the release of microfibers during washing, such as using a special laundry bag or washing on a cold, gentle cycle.
What Can You Do to Help?
To reduce the environmental impact of your clothing, it is important to consider the impacts at each stage of the clothing lifecycle, from production to disposal. This can include choosing clothing made from sustainable materials, supporting clothing companies that prioritize environmental sustainability, and reducing clothing waste by repairing and reusing clothing.
These are some ways you can take action to help.
- Buy clothing made from sustainable materials: Choosing clothing made from sustainable materials, such as organic cotton or recycled materials, can help to reduce the environmental impact of clothing production. Sustainable materials are produced using practices that minimize environmental damage and promote the long-term health of ecosystems. For example, organic cotton is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, which can reduce water pollution and soil degradation. Recycled materials are made from post-consumer waste or industrial by-products, which can help to reduce the amount of waste in landfills and reduce the demand for virgin materials.
- Support clothing companies that prioritize sustainability: Many clothing companies are working to reduce their environmental footprint, and supporting these companies can help to encourage the adoption of sustainable practices in the industry. Look for companies that use eco-friendly materials and practices, such as using low-impact dyes and reducing water and energy use in production. These companies may also have programs in place to reduce waste and promote the responsible disposal of clothing at the end of its life.
- Repair and reuse clothing: Instead of throwing clothing away when it is no longer new or in-style, try repairing and reusing it. This can help to extend the life of clothing and reduce waste. Simple repairs, such as mending a tear or replacing a button, can help to keep clothing in use. In addition, clothing can often be repurposed or upcycled into something new, such as turning an old shirt into a tote bag.
- Donate or sell clothing that you no longer need: If you have clothing that you no longer wear, consider donating it to a thrift store or selling it online. This can help to keep clothing in use and out of landfills. Thrift stores and secondhand clothing markets provide an alternative to buying new clothing and can help to extend the life of clothing by finding it a new home.
- Wash clothing less frequently: Washing clothing less frequently can help to reduce the environmental impact of laundering. Washing clothing on a cold, gentle cycle and using a full load can help to reduce energy and water use. Washing clothing less frequently can also help to extend its life by reducing wear and tear.
- Consider the environmental impact of transportation: If you are buying clothing online, consider the impact of transportation when choosing a shipping option. Choosing a slower, more sustainable shipping option can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Choosing local or regional retailers can help to reduce the distance that clothing must be transported, which can also reduce transportation-related impacts.
By taking these steps, you can help to reduce the environmental impact of clothing and support the adoption of sustainable practices in the clothing industry.
National Library of Medicine
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