12.1 Clothing and Textiles: Fast Fashion and Waste

Author: Peiyu Si

ABSTRACT: The fashion industry has been identified as the second largest polluter worldwide. The impact of its production and waste can be harmful in many aspects.


Fast fashion refers to cheaply produced and quickly purchased clothes that imitate the latest runway styles. It emphasizes new styles delivered to consumers immediately, while quickening the pace at which clothing goes out of style and being disposed of. The popularity and the quantity of buying fast fashion products have dramatically grown in the past two decades. According to the statistics, people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than they did in 2000; meanwhile, the fashion industry is now responsible for at least 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions (McFall-Johnsen, 2019). Furthermore, the unfortunate fact is that about 60% of synthetic fabrics are made of fossil fuels; and 85% of textiles end up in landfills each year, where they never decay and decompose. These numbers are intimidating but are the reality.

While the world tries to achieve the goal of 1.5 degree in global warming, the manufacturing of fast fashion adds a massive amount of waste to the planet. The causes are obvious, as “fast-fashion brands may not design their clothing to last, but as artifacts of a particularly consumptive era, they might become an important part of the fossil record” (Schlossberg, 2019). Here are some numbers to prove that fast fashion is a global disaster of waste. A family in the western world throws away an average of 30 kg of clothing each year (Charpail, 2017); and 40% of clothing purchased in some countries are never used (Ro, 2020). Meanwhile, the fast fashion industry is a huge distributor to carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the global fashion industry emits 1.7 billion tons of CO2 per year, which is more than the amount produced by international flights and shipping. Furthermore, polyester is made from fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases and shed microfibers which contribute to ocean pollution with plastic. Whereas two-thirds of our clothing comes from fossil fuel-derived synthetics, and making these materials is a carbon-intensive process (Young & Hagan, 2019).

The production of fast fashion also accounts for a huge waste of water, as it is responsible for nearly 20% of global water waste. These wastes of water usually come from the dyeing and finishing process for all clothes. Although natural materials such as cotton, wouldn’t produce huge amount of CO2 as much as polyester would, it is a major water consumer as it is a highly water-intensive plant. “Natural materials aren’t necessarily sustainable either” (Ro, 2020).

Therefore, human actions on reducing the amount of purchasing would not only decrease the tragedy that goes into landfills, but it would also help reduce carbon emissions generated from the production, as well as water waster. According to the numbers mentioned above, one can come to a conclusion that if people increase the times that they wear a certain piece of cloth, it will make a big difference in its overall carbon footprint. This is because there would be 400% more carbon emissions produced if we wear a garment 5 times instead of 50 times (Charpail, 2017). However, there are some changes being made. The Fashion Revolution has become the world’s largest fashion activism movement ever since the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, in which the explosion killed 1,100 garment workers (Young & Hagan, 2019). People who participate in this movement are willing to take actions for our future and they focus on the void of human rights abuses and environmental degradation, while they aim to address the environmental cost of fashion. People are now much encouraged to buy less, buy better quality while wearing it many more times, and lastly, donate.


Charpail, M. (2017). Fashion’s Environmental Impact. Sustain Your Style. https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/old-environmental-impacts

Ro, C. (2020). Can fashion ever be sustainable? BBC. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200310-sustainable-fashion-how-to-buy-clothe s-good-for-the-climate

McFall-Johnsen, M. (2019). The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Here are the biggest ways it impacts the planet. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/fast-fashion-environmental-impact-pollution-emissi ons-waste-water-2019-10

Schlossberg, T. (2019). How Fast Fashion Is Destroying the Planet. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/03/books/review/how-fast-fashion-is-destroying-t he-planet.html

Young, R & Hagan, A. (2019). The Environmental Cost of Fashion. wbur. https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/12/03/fast-fashion-devastates-environment


Peiyu Si is a third-year interior design student at Ryerson University. She is always willing to enhance and incorporate with sustainability in her current and future designs.

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