The fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to global water pollution. Today, each step in the fashion supply chain requires significant amounts of water.
Unfortunately, many of the chemicals and pollutants used in the industry end up in our waterways, leading to devastating environmental consequences.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the connection between fashion and water pollution, including past contamination cases, and discuss why it’s crucial that we start paying attention to this issue.
The Fashion Industry’s Impact on Water Pollution
The fashion industry contributes extensively to water pollution, with textile dyeing and finishing being the main culprits, as they consume a large amount of water and are highly polluting.
Water pollution from fashion production has significant negative effects on human and environmental health, as the chemicals used in these processes can lead to various health problems, such as skin irritation, respiratory issues, and others. When released into waterways, these chemicals can also harm aquatic life and contaminate the drinking water of nearby communities.
Fast fashion exacerbates the water pollution problem. The constant demand for new clothing means that textile factories are operating at full capacity, leading to an increase in water usage and chemical pollution. Furthermore, the trend towards low-cost manufacturing has resulted in poor wastewater management and disposal practices in many developing countries where textile production occurs.
The United Nations has reported that the fashion industry’s water consumption is a staggering 79 trillion liters per year, contributing to 20% of global water pollution. This highlights the significant impact that the fashion industry has on water pollution, emphasizing the need for attention and action to be taken toward reducing its harmful effects.
To reduce the impact of fashion on water pollution, industry stakeholders need to adopt sustainable practices. This includes using eco-friendly dyes, reducing water usage, and improving wastewater treatment and disposal methods. Consumers can also play a role by buying less and opting for sustainable fashion choices, such as second-hand clothing and eco-friendly brands.
The Environmental Cost of Fast Fashion
Ocean pollution is significantly impacted by the fashion industry. The use of synthetic fibers and dyes in clothing production releases harmful chemicals into the water. These chemicals not only harm aquatic life but also end up in the food chain, affecting human health.
The fashion industry’s water-intensive processes, such as cotton farming and fabric dyeing, are draining natural water sources. This not only harms marine ecosystems but also has severe implications for communities that depend on these water sources for their everyday survival.
Moreover, the extensive use of water resources by the industry is also taking a heavy toll on agriculture. For instance, rice farmers in Gazipur, a central district in Bangladesh, are struggling to earn profits due to the pollution caused by the mass-produced garment industry.
In addition, there is a severe shortage of clean drinking water in the region, and the discharge of wastewater from clothing manufacturing plants has resulted in the contamination of agricultural lands, leading to long-term skin problems.
The fashion industry has a considerable negative effect on oceans and other water bodies. The production of textiles and garments involves the use of chemicals and synthetic materials that release pollutants into the water. These pollutants can be harmful to aquatic life, as well as to humans who rely on these water sources for drinking and other purposes.
A recent article published in MDPI states that the fashion industry is ranked as the second most detrimental industry in terms of pollution. The industry is responsible for emitting 8% of the world’s carbon emissions and generating 20% of global wastewater. These figures are likely to increase, with a 50% rise in greenhouse gas emissions projected by 2030.
The environmental impact of fast fashion isn’t limited to the ocean and water sources. The growing demand for cheap clothing is also causing massive deforestation and land degradation, affecting agriculture. The use of pesticides and fertilizers in cotton farming has also been linked to soil pollution and a decline in soil fertility.
Given these adverse effects, it’s necessary to pay attention to the environmental cost of fast fashion and take steps toward creating a more sustainable and responsible fashion industry.
How Water Contamination Impacts Human Health
Water contamination resulting from fashion industry activities has severe adverse effects on human health. The consumption of contaminated water can lead to a range of health problems, such as gastrointestinal illnesses, different types of cancer, etc.
At higher vulnerability, children can face severe consequences after consuming contaminated water. Exposure to contaminated water can lead to developmental delays, cognitive impairment, and other health problems. Moreover, pregnant women who drink contaminated water may face a higher risk of giving birth to babies with low birth weights.
The fashion industry’s activities that cause water pollution can also lead to long-term health problems. For example, exposure to certain chemicals found in textile dyeing processes can lead to the accumulation of toxins in the body over time, resulting in chronic health conditions such as cancer and respiratory problems.
Camp Lejeune, a military base in North Carolina, became a notorious case of water contamination that led to severe health consequences, including the ones mentioned above. For example, this exposure to contaminated water led to a range of chronic diseases, including different types of cancer, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.
Additionally, the contamination was linked to neural tube defects, birth defects, and other chronic illnesses. To lessen the suffering, many affected individuals filed a Camp Lejeune lawsuit. Sadly, only a few have been able to succeed in getting fair compensation, while many are still fighting for their rights.
TorHoerman Law estimates that the number of people exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune during the period is more than a million. Currently, over a hundred lawsuits related to this case have been filed in the US District Court: Eastern District of North Carolina as of February 2023.
Solutions for a More Sustainable Fashion Industry
The fashion industry’s negative influence on the environment also encompasses water pollution. However, there are solutions that can make the fashion industry more sustainable.
To address the problem, a potential solution is to decrease the amount of textile waste and promote the utilization of sustainable materials like recycled fabrics, organic cotton, and hemp. The use of sustainable materials could reduce the fashion industry’s water consumption significantly in the long term.
Another solution is to implement water-saving techniques in the production process, such as using recycled water and reducing water usage in dyeing and finishing processes. By adopting sustainable practices such as utilizing organic cotton, hemp, and recycled fabrics, as well as minimizing textile waste, the fashion industry can greatly reduce its water usage and mitigate water pollution.
Brands can also work towards greater transparency and accountability by providing information on their environmental and social impacts, including their water consumption and pollution levels. This can assist consumers in making informed decisions and urge brands to prioritize sustainable practices.
In order to establish a fashion industry that is more sustainable, it is crucial to transition to circular business models. This means designing products for reuse and recycling, minimizing waste, and creating closed-loop supply chains. The circular economy approach can help reduce the amount of water pollution caused by the fashion industry, as well as other environmental impacts, and create a more sustainable future.
Circular business models for fashion, including rental, resale, repairs, and remaking, have been identified as a significant opportunity for sustainable growth in the industry, according to a report “Beyond circular fashion” published in January 2023. These models have the potential to generate substantial greenhouse gas savings and could be valued at $700 billion by 2030, accounting for 23% of the global fashion market.
The issue of water pollution caused by the fashion industry is urgent and needs to be addressed promptly. The high levels of carbon emissions, water depletion, and contamination caused by the industry are contributing to a range of adverse effects on human health and the environment.
Thus, it’s essential that we begin paying attention to these issues and take action to create a more sustainable fashion industry. The fashion industry has a responsibility to prioritize sustainability, and consumers can play a crucial role in driving change by supporting sustainable fashion practices and brands.