How The Fashion Industry Is Killing Our Rivers And Water Supply - Ecobuy
How the fashion industry is killing our rivers and water supply

Fashion Disruption

The fast fashion model has spiraled into a marketer’s dream. Consumer purchase behaviors are driven by short-term pleasure.

We show off our wealth, style and personality but once this temporary fulfilment is over, it’s a vicious cycle to continuously satisfy our rational materialistic values, becoming a desire not a necessity.

Environmental Insanity: “The Take-Make Philosophy”

Although shopping for clothes has resulted in affordability; this comes at an environmental cost!

The fashion industry produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions and according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s new report the fashion industry’s “take-make-dispose” philosophy is creating 1.2 billion tones of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

That accounts to 10% of global emissions “than all international flights and maritime shipping” combined and is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply.

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Unethical Consumption

The incomprehensible scale of the fashion industry and the sheer quantity of fabrics that are produced for clothing each year is what makes the fashion industry so destructive.

Take into consideration that 84% of clothing discarded in the U.S. ends up in the incinerator or landfill and over the last 2 decades Americans clothing consumption has doubled to 14 million tons per year!

Clothing Fabrics: A Question of Sustainability

Clothing is made up of various types of materials, often blends of different fabrics, which all have their benefits and drawbacks in terms of comfort, durability and production cost.

However, cotton is found in 40% of all clothing whilst synthetic fibers, such as polyester and nylon, in 72% of garments. Both have been criticized for their environmental impacts.

How the fashion industry is killing our rivers and water supply

Cotton Catastrophe

Cotton is a highly water intensive plant. Though only 2.4% of the world’s agricultural land is planted with cotton, it consumes almost 10% of all agricultural chemicals and 25% of pesticides.

In one of the most destructive environmental catastrophes man has ever created, two rivers that fed the Aral sea were redirected in the 1960s by the Soviet Union to maintain the cotton plantations in what is now Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Without these two major water inputs, almost the entire Aral sea has now dried up; once a cotton production, has converted a sea into an arid desert.

Energy Wastage

Factories are major energy consumers and therefore greenhouse gas emitters. An estimated 80% of the energy used in the fashion industry is used in textile manufacturing.

Electricity is needed to run machinery such as sewing machines and air pumps in textile factories. Huge amounts of heat is needed for washing, drying and dying the cloth.

Most of these factories operate in China which is largely dependent on coal for producing energy.

The further costs of transporting the garments produces additional CO2 as the vast majority of garments have travelled by ship.

Waterway Destruction

The retail supply chain’s environmental impacts of fashion aren’t always pretty. Every step of the fashion supply chain has horrendous statistics.

For each tone of dyed fabric, 200 tones of water is needed.

With factories in countries such as India, Bangladesh and China churning out thousands of items per minute, these effects are aggravated to an alarming level of 1.5 trillion liters of water used annually.

The problem doesn’t stop after clothing has been produced. A report by the UN found 90% of chemically infused wastewater in developing countries is released into local rivers and is used by locals daily.

Unsustainable Waste Disposal

The quicker fashions become unfashionable and out the door, works well for company profits but at a severe cost to the environment.

Many of the materials used in clothing today like, acrylic, nylon and polyester are petroleum based and when they end up in the landfill, they take decades to decompose and even though natural fibres like cotton, linen and silk are better, the process of decomposition produces methane (a serious greenhouse gas).

Synthetic fibres, like polyester, are used in 72% of modern clothing and they’re non-biodegradable, meaning each garment can take up to 200 years to decompose!

Did You Know?

Once we’re bored of our clothes what happens? In the UK alone, 300,000 tonnes of clothing are disposed a year to landfills.

How the fashion industry is killing our rivers and water supply

Chemical Run Off

Through harsh chemical manufacturing processes and the irresponsible disposal of toxic chemical waste, our favorite fashion items destroy rivers and impact the lives of people who count on these waterways for their survival.

The abundance of chemicals required to manufacture clothing, the bleaches and dyes involved in the manufacturing process, these toxic chemicals often end up in our waterways and oceans.

The fashion industry’s pollution of water spans all stages of the value chain: from the agricultural runoff from cotton fields causing algal blooms that choke rivers, to the dying process releasing a cocktail of toxic chemicals and the washing of clothes releasing microplastics.

Corporate Trade-Offs

Corporations must be accountable for their environmental practices, ensuring that no one has the right to damage or destroy a river. More needs to be done within the textile sector, who have to commit to a fashion industry without pollution.

CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project). found that a fifth (21%) of disclosing companies reported water pollution risks that “have the potential to pose a substantive financial or strategic risk to their business”. The majority of these reported risks were identified in the manufacturing stages of the value chain.

How the fashion industry is killing our rivers and water supply

A landfill full of donated clothes in Ghana MAXINE BÉDAT

Next Steps

Fortunately, the tide is beginning turn as consumers and businesses alike become more aware of the potential damage the fast fashion industry is causing.

More stringent regulation and fines for businesses found polluting the environment with wastewater will undoubtedly bring change.

Rapid advances in water treatment technology mean organisations can now treat wastewater in an environmentally considerate way while being able to reuse water and guaranteeing discharge regulations are met.

Consumer Advocacy

However, maybe we can do it in a better and more environmentally friendly way, maybe we have no choice if we do not want to fill the land with landfills and turn the world’s rivers purple with toxic dies (purple just happens to be my daughter’s favourite colour).

So consider wearing your clothes longer, borrowing and trading clothes, recycling worn out clothes. The list can go on and on, all we need do is think before we throw.

The power of advocacy lies at the heart of the consumer to seek out clothing made in an environmentally friendly manner and recycled for the most effective consumption approach; both to humans and the environment.

To learn more about the effects of fast fashion in our environment check out this video:


What does fast fashion mean?

Fast fashion is a design, manufacturing, and marketing method focused on rapidly producing high volumes of clothing. Garment production utilizes trend replication and low-quality materials in order to bring inexpensive styles to the public.

How does the fashion industry pollute water?

The fashion & textiles industry is a major polluter of water at all stages of the value chain, from the agricultural runoff from cottonfields causing algal blooms that choke rivers, to the dying process releasing a cocktail of toxic chemicals and the washing of clothes releasing microplastics.

Why the fashion industry is bad?

The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. The global fashion industry is generating a lot of greenhouse gases due to the energy used during its production, manufacturing, and transportation of the million garments purchased each year.