The fashion industry’s heavy reliance on petrochemical products is often overlooked, but it contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. This is due to the fact that modern textiles use products from the same oil and gas companies responsible for carbon dioxide output. Learn more about the fashion industry and environmental impact.
Shockingly, fashion alone is responsible for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide output, which is more than international flights and shipping combined. In addition, the industry contributes to 20% of the 300 million tons of plastic produced each year. Polyester, a popular plastic-based material, has replaced cotton as the primary material for textile production.
Garments made from synthetic fibers like polyester are also a significant source of microplastic pollution, which has adverse effects on marine life. The production of clothing has increased at an alarming rate, as retailers and customers alike rapidly cycle through fashion trends. Reports from McKinsey and the World Economic Forum indicate that the number of garments produced annually has at least doubled since 2000.
A small portion of clothing that is produced is recycled. The majority of the fiber used for clothing, about 87%, is either burned or ends up in landfills. The fashion industry has faced backlash for their actions, including the destruction of unsold products and sending large amounts of clothing to landfills in developing countries, as well as for the hazardous and unfair working conditions for their employees.
Over the past decade, fashion brands have shifted their focus towards sustainability. Zara, owned by Inditex, has committed to having 50% of its products made with recycled materials and “ecologically grown cotton” by 2022.
Parade, an online intimate and loungewear brand, has launched an initiative to collect and recycle underwear, while other brands such as Boohoo, H&M, and Kering (which includes luxury houses Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Alexander McQueen) have published sustainability reports outlining their goals to increase the use of recycled and organic materials.
Despite these efforts, the production of fossil fuel-based clothing continues to increase and is expected to grow over the next 20 years as oil and gas companies increasingly rely on petrochemical products like polyester in the face of declining demand from transportation.