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Fast Fashion: Fast Destroying Our Planet?

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

✍🏻 Monica Neves | BSc Biomedical Science graduate from the University of West Scotland

 

What is fast fashion? 👗

Fast fashion aims to bring as many fashion items as possible into the market as quickly as possible.

Generally, fast fashion has an exploitative nature to it, whilst slow fashion involves consciously and sustainably producing and consuming fashion; clothes are designed, produced, and sold to last a long time.

 

What materials are used in fast fashion? 🧵

Nearly 70% of clothes are made of synthetic materials, with polyester being the leading fibre; followed by cotton, a natural fibre, accounting for only 20%.

Fast fashion companies tend to use synthetic fibres like polyester, polyamide (also known as nylon), acrylic, viscose and elastane.


These materials are cheap and tend to be of poor quality, which is directly linked to the garments' reduced longevity.

 

What is polyester made from? 👕

The extraction and making of polyester involves complex chemical processes requiring significantly high temperatures and energy use.

These processes are therefore highly dependent on fossil fuels.


Fossil fuels include coal, crude oil (or petroleum) and natural gas, which are non-renewable resources. As the name suggests, these resources are limited and take millions of years to form.

 

How does the manufacture of polyester cause the greenhouse effect? 🌍

The manufacturing of polyester is one of the sources associated with global warming and the greenhouse effect.

Under normal circumstances, greenhouse gases (i.e. carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapour) are responsible for maintaining the Earth at an ideal temperature.


They act by trapping the heat coming from the sun and using it to keep the planet warm. This process is defined as the greenhouse effect. Without this climate system in place, the Earth's average temperature would be around -20°C.


However, the pace at which fossil fuels have been burning (since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution), is interfering with this system. Too much carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere, a significantly higher concentration than the Earth can deal with.


For example, this has been partially linked with the heatwaves the United Kingdom has been facing in the past two summers. Experts say these extreme weather conditions are going to be more frequent.


Explanatory video of the greenhouse effect. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Generally, manufacturing a synthetic garment emits more greenhouse gasses than a natural garment. It was found that producing a cotton t-shirt emits 4.3 kg of carbon dioxide whilst producing a polyester t-shirt emits 5.5.kg of carbon dioxide.


Polyester also produces double the fibre mass, compared to cotton (54 versus 26 million tonnes per year).

 

How biodegradable is polyester? 🧤

Biodegradability refers to the ability of something to decompose.

At the end of their lifespan, synthetic clothes are sent to landfills to be broken down or incinerated.

 

How is clothing manufacturing harmful to human health? 🫁

Microplastics are tiny particles made of plastic that can impact human and animal health.

Some experts claim they could have serious health consequences due to their chemical composition.

Clothing label.

Washing and ironing activities (i.e. laundering) are some of the main sources of microplastics. Besides laundering, microplastic shedding can also happen by simply wearing your clothes.


Microplastics have been found in the air, ocean, freshwater, soil and even in human blood. The discovery of microplastics in the bloodstream is fairly recent, and as such, more research is required to fully identify how they might affect human health.


Microplastics have made their way into the food chain; the toxins associated with them tend to accumulate as they progress from one level to another. These toxins can end up being stored in animal fat and tissues.

 
Isobel Thompson, Content Writer at Write in the Loop

Written by: Monica Neves (Content Writer)


Grace Pountney, Founder and Director at Write in the Loop

Edited by: Grace Pountney (Founder and Director)


 
 

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