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Fast Fashion Series Part 2: Fast Fashion and Water Pollution

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

The biggest impact of the fashion industry is its correlation to water usage and harm to local marine life. Toxic chemicals used by this industry are emitted into waterways, severely harming wildlife and destroying ecosystems. In recent years, there has been a rise in the fashion industry’s water pollution causing ocean acidification, which has damaging impacts on the marine food chain. Ocean acidification is the decrease of pH in the ocean, and it can create conditions that eat away at the minerals used and needed by marine life. Some manufacturers dump microplastics into water bodies which wildlife consumes and is affected by. Beyond marine life, the toxic chemicals used in dyes have horrible effects on workers’ health.

Because of the amount of clothing fast fashion produces annually, its water consumption (and pollution) has exponentially increased. For instance, on the supply side, water is used for the irrigation of cotton crops, and at home, people use it to wash their clothes. It is estimated that the fashion industry uses over 90 billion cubic meters of water annually– a number that is set to double by 2030. To think about this in another way, this industry uses the same amount of water needed to support 110 million people for a year. The World Bank views the effects the fashion industry has on the water as an “invisible crisis” because many are unaware of the devastating effects fashion has on our environment (especially our water bodies).

The non-profit organization Water Witness International reported that fast fashion manufacturers are severely harming developing countries in Africa and Asia. In Africa, manufacturers have altered the state of many rivers– as many of them have dangerous levels of toxins. For instance, in Lesotho, the wet processing of blue jeans completely changed the pH levels of the Msimbazi river to as high as 12 (bleach has a pH level of 11-13). Some field researchers claimed that some water samples they had taken in this area had burned their hands. The use of harsh chemicals (such as those used to dye jeans in Lesotho) poses a very significant problem for water bodies and the environment in general. The pollution produced by the fashion industry is already difficult for the environment to keep up with, and the introduction of fast fashion in recent decades has only worsened the conditions of our water bodies.


Works Cited

Bandera, G. (n.d.). How the fashion industry pollutes our water. FairPlanet.

Common Objective. (2021, November 23). The Issues: Water. Common Objective.

Corvus. (2020, June 25). Understanding the pH Scale of Cleaning Chemicals and Why It Matters. Corvus.

Frost, R. (2021, August 19). Why are rivers turning blue in Africa? Euronews.

NOAA Fisheries. (2020, December 23). Understanding Ocean Acidification | NOAA Fisheries. NOAA.

Scott, M. (n.d.). Out Of Fashion - The Hidden Cost Of Clothing Is A Water Pollution Crisis. Forbes. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from


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