If you care about the environment, yourself and people in general, then you need to stop buying new clothes and you need to stop doing it now – at least until we run out of secondhand clothes and fabric, which I can’t see happening any time soon! Our clothes buying habits are seriously messed up and we are ruining peoples lives all over the world as well as potentially our own.
Here are some of the problems with buying new clothes:
Are you being poisoned by your new clothes?
When textiles are made they are filled with hazardous chemicals. These range from bleaches to dyes to substances which make the textiles non-iron (e.g. formaldehyde) or antibacterial (e.g. triclosan). These are not chemicals you want leaching into your skin or being pumped into rivers and potentially bioaccumulating in the food chain but that is exactly what is happening. Greenpeace is working hard to convince brands to change their ways, but they aren’t there yet. As things currently stand every time you buy new clothes you are putting yourself and the environment at risk as this infographic explains:
Discarded clothes are polluting our land and potentially our air
Most clothes are not made entirely from natural fibres, they come from a mix of fibres and once they have reached the end of their life, if they cannot be reused or recycled, they will end up on landfill or in an incinerator. According to WRAP ‘around £140 million worth (350,000 tonnes) of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year’, ‘More than 30% of our unwanted clothing currently goes to landfill’. Landfill is bad and incineration is worse as it produces dioxins which although in theory prevented from being released into the air by filters it may not always work in practise. Dioxins known as Agent Orange were used in the Vietnam war and years later the effects are still being felt with babies being born with birth defects. Watch Jeremy Irons ‘Trashed’ film to find out more about the problems with landfill and incineration.
Washing our clothes is contributing to the plastic problem in our oceans
Recently a blogging friend dropped what was for me a bit of a bombshell, @polytheenpam of Plastic is Rubbish
informed me that ‘washing machines shed..thousands of microfibres into the sea’. I had no idea that from washing my clothes made out of synthetic fibres I was polluting the sea with plastic. That is not something I like the idea of at all!
The ugly truth about cotton
Even when natural fibres like cotton are used, which can be composted at the end of their useful life and don’t contribute to the problem of plastic in the ocean there are problems. To produce cotton takes a large volume of pesticides, it ‘soaks up 11-12% of the world’s pesticides’
. Pesticides can be very damaging to the environment and to those that work with them. There are even more problems with cotton – water diverted to cotton plantations has been blamed for the drying up of the Aral Sea (read more here
Factory workers lives are being put at risk to bring us fast fashion.
New fashion trends are being turned around so quickly that factory workers are being put under tremendous pressure. In 2013 the Rana Plaza
disaster brought to light the shocking practise of locking factory workers in until their work was finished. Tragically more than 1100 workers died and over 2500 were injured when the factory collapsed. This factory produced clothes for well known brands ranging from Primark to Benetton. Have things changed in Bangladesh since then? I don’t know but I don’t think fashion hasn’t shown any sign of slowing down.
Private companies are profiting from our charitable donations
If you donate your old clothes to charity to make way for your new ones, you might imagine someone else in your local area will soon be wearing them, but actually that is pretty unlikely. Most of the clothes donated to charity in the UK are purchased very cheaply by private companies who then sell them at a large mark up to vendors in developing countries (this site
says at a 1000% mark up). According to WRAP
‘around 50% of clothes are
re-used, and over two-thirds of these
We are contributing to loss of skills and culture in Africa.
The clothes sent overseas are often sold at markets and although they may be cheaper than new clothes, the market stall owners still need to make a profit. The effect on developing countries and in particular Ghana is that they are paying good money for our secondhand clothes and losing their own local textile industry in the meantime. This results in skills lost, textile making equipment and facilities lost and culture lost as instead of wearing traditional clothes, they are now wearing western ones. (read more here
What should we do instead?
What do you think? Look out for my next blog post with my thoughts on this.
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