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The societal impact of fast fashion
Beyond the environmental destruction that comes along with fast fashion, the industry seriously affects workers, as described in the textile dyeing section. The most impacted are women, typically between the ages of 18 - 30 and located in developing nations. In some of these developing countries, there is also a major issue with coerced labor and child labor. The U.S. Department of Labor found evidence of this in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, and Vietnam (to name a few). Developing countries welcome manufacturing plants because they believe they will help develop their economy by providing outsourcing opportunities for large clothing firms. They chose to ignore the impact of fast fashion factories on their countries' environments and populations. Workers are being taken advantage of due to lacking and unenforced labor and safety laws.
The fashion industry is the most labor-intensive industry, with nearly 15% of the world’s working-age population being involved. The hours worked are steadily increasing while the pay rate remains unchanged. For example, in developing nations, many work just under 100 hours a week, and their quality of life has not changed. Beyond the risk of getting hurt physically, workers are not allowed to unionize, are forced to leave their families, and are punished for not meeting productivity quotas.
The intensity of the effect the fashion industry has on the environment is something that must be addressed immediately. There are many nations whose landscapes have negatively changed in the past few years because of the effects of the fashion industry.
As this paper discussed, the fashion industry takes advantage of our natural resources, especially our water bodies. One of the biggest solutions to help preserve the environment is eliminating contaminants in water. It would help reverse the damage done and also prevent further loss of biodiversity and general water quality in the future.
However, the process of treating water is not without its faults. A vast number of chemicals would be used to try and “fix” the water– which, if done wrong, could cause more harm than good. In addition to this, operating costs are typically too high for many companies to consider it to be a long-term practice. Costs are high because of the toxic sludge (also known as textile wastewater) that must be treated. In order for this process to become more popular in the industry, more research and development needs to be done by the businesses, and the technology used in this process needs to be streamlined.
Another solution to consider is the use of natural fibers and materials such as “list”– on both the manufacturer’s side and the consumer's side. These textiles typically use less water during the manufacturing process and release fewer synthetic fibers into the wastewater. Reducing consumption and production would also be significant for the environment because total waste would decrease and reduce the need for transportation resources, water, and energy usage.
It is important to note that the change must primarily come from the industry itself (companies, manufacturers, distributors, etc.). They hold more responsibility for the environmental destruction we see, so they must hold more of the burden. They need to consider more sustainable practices in all stages of textile production. For example, investing in less water-intensive equipment and processes, reducing the number of chemicals in use, or using natural dyes. Beyond change coming from the industry, there must also be an increase in policies, regulations, and enforcement from states– especially among developing nations.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws: These laws make producers responsible for the disposal of their products, including clothing. This means that fast fashion companies must bear the cost of managing the waste generated by their products and are incentivized to reduce waste and promote recycling.
In New York
Ban on single-use plastics: Some countries have banned single-use plastics, including the packaging used in fast fashion products. This encourages companies to find alternative, more sustainable packaging options.
Mandatory reporting on supply chain transparency: In some countries, companies are required to report on their supply chain transparency, including details on working conditions, environmental impact, and social responsibility. This enables consumers to make informed choices and encourages companies to improve their sustainability practices.
Taxation on non-sustainable materials: In France, a tax on non-sustainable textiles has been proposed to encourage companies to use more environmentally-friendly materials in their products.
Implementation of minimum wage laws and worker protection: Some countries have introduced minimum wage laws and other worker protection measures, including ensuring workers are treated fairly and not exploited for cheap labor.
Restriction on the sale of certain materials: Certain materials that are harmful to the environment or to human health, such as polyester or other synthetic materials, may be restricted from being used in clothing or accessories.
Water is a critical resource for the fashion industry, as it is used in various stages of the production process, including growing cotton, dyeing and finishing textiles, and washing clothing. However, the fashion industry has also been criticized for its negative impact on the world's water supply and water quality. Here are a few ways the fashion industry affects water:
Water pollution: The chemicals used in textile processing, such as dyes and finishes, can contaminate water supplies and harm aquatic life. In many countries, the lack of regulation and enforcement has led to widespread water pollution from the fashion industry.
Water scarcity: The fashion industry is water-intensive, and in some regions, the overuse of water for cotton production and other processes is contributing to water scarcity.
Dyeing and finishing processes: Textile dyeing and finishing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, and the industry is known for using hazardous chemicals that can be harmful to human health and the environment.
Chemical runoff from cotton production: Cotton is a commonly used fiber in the fashion industry, and the production of cotton often involves the use of pesticides and fertilizers that can contaminate water sources.
Improper waste disposal: The fashion industry generates a significant amount of waste, including scraps of fabric, trimmings, and used clothing. Improper disposal of these materials can result in water pollution and harm the environment.
To address these issues, it is important for the fashion industry to adopt more sustainable practices, such as using environmentally friendly dyes and chemicals, promoting water-saving technologies, and advocating for better waste management practices. Consumers can also play a role by choosing to support brands and products that prioritize sustainability and environmental responsibility.
Fortunately, there are efforts underway to address these issues and promote sustainable water use in the fashion industry. For example, many brands and organizations such as Reformation, Kitdo, and so many more are advocating for cleaner production processes, investing in water-saving technologies, and promoting more sustainable cotton production practices. By raising awareness and taking action, the fashion industry can play a role in protecting water resources and promoting sustainable development.
What to do as a Consumer
Buy less and choose quality: One way to reduce the negative impact of fast fashion is to buy less and choose quality over quantity. Invest in clothes that are made from sustainable materials, such as organic cotton, hemp, and linen.
Support ethical and sustainable fashion brands: Support fashion brands that prioritize ethical and sustainable practices in their production processes. Look for brands that use environmentally friendly materials, pay fair wages to workers, and have transparent supply chains.
Donate or recycle clothes: Instead of throwing away old clothes, donate them to charity or recycle them. Many organizations accept donations of used clothes and repurpose them to reduce waste.
Repair and upcycle: Instead of throwing away damaged clothing, try repairing them or upcycling them into something new. You can turn old t-shirts into reusable shopping bags or patch up a hole in your favorite jeans.
Choose second-hand clothing: Buying second-hand clothing is an excellent way to reduce the demand for fast fashion products. Shopping at thrift stores or online marketplaces like eBay or Depop can help you find unique and affordable clothes while reducing your impact on the environment.
Educate yourself and others: Learn more about the negative impact of fast fashion and share your knowledge with others. By raising awareness, you can help others make more informed decisions when it comes to their clothing choices.
Some Petitions to look into and support:
CFDA. (2019). Polyester. Cfda.com. https://cfda.com/resources/materials/detail/polyester
Ettinger, J. (2022, February 15). Chile’s New Single-Use Plastic Ban Sets a New Bar for Global Waste Initiatives. Green Queen. https://www.greenqueen.com.hk/chiles-plastic-ban/
France introduces new measures to fight waste significant impact on fashion industry. (n.d.). DLA Piper. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from https://www.dlapiper.com/en/insights/publications/law-a-la-mode/2022/law-a-la-mode-edition-33/france-introduces-new-measures-to-fight-waste-significant-impact-on-fashion-industry
How The Fashion Industry Contributes to Water Pollution. (2021, May 27). Y.O.U Underwear. https://www.youunderwear.com/blogs/y-o-u-blog/how-the-fashion-industry-contributes-to-water-pollution
Maiti, R. (2022, December 1). Fast Fashion and Its Environmental Impact. Earth.org. https://earth.org/fast-fashions-detrimental-effect-on-the-environment/
Product Stewardship - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation. (n.d.). Www.dec.ny.gov. https://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/66746.html
SB 657 Home Page. (2015, March 31). State of California - Department of Justice - Office of the Attorney General. https://oag.ca.gov/SB657
Sivaram, N. M., Gopal, P. M., & Barik, D. (2019, January 1). Chapter 4 - Toxic Waste From Textile Industries (D. Barik, Ed.). ScienceDirect; Woodhead Publishing. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780081025284000043
Textiles and the environment: the role of design in Europe’s circular economy — European Environment Agency. (n.d.). Www.eea.europa.eu. https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/textiles-and-the-environment-the