According to (Charpail, 2017) the fashion industry is the second largest polluter after oil and gas. As the industry develops, so does the increase in textile pollution. A key contributor has been single-use surgical masks as a result of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. These masks not only end up in landfill but reach our waterways and have devastating impacts on our marine wildlife. According to (Worldometer, 2019) the current global population is 7,874,965,825. This population will continue to grow, and accordingly, the textile industry will grow alongside it. Therefore, it is critical that environmental education in the developed and emerging markets is prioritized, and the wastage created by this industry is minimised through conscious social reform and awareness; we ultimately must change consumer behaviour.
According to (Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, n.d.) “Annually Australian’s acquire an average of 27 kilograms of new clothing per person, and discard around 23 kilograms of clothing to landfill each year.” The current Australian population recorded by (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2019) on 28 September 2021 was 25,775,850. This equates to 592,844,504 kg of clothing discarded (to landfill) each year by the current population and a significant domestic contribution to the global textile crisis.
Another report by (Aph.gov.au, 2018) stated that 87.5% of Australian clothing is going to landfill and Australians are purchasing 60% more clothing compared to 15 years ago because of the fashion industry and consumer trends. The report also stated that the global recycling rates on synthetic materials is less than 1%; comparatively, 30% of PET from plastic bottles is recycled. The report provided more statistics stating that Australia relies heavily on exporting textiles. In the textiles recovery industry, only 15% of textiles are donated and resold but the rest is exported to other countries or recycled where possible.
Globally, the fashion industry uses 1.5 trillion litres of water each year. Not only does the industry use this amount of water but often in many LMIC’s (Low-to-Middle-Income-Country) where the garments are produced, the wastewater is directed back to the main rivers which many people rely on to survive. It takes approximately 1 kg of chemical to dye 1 kg of material; these materials are often toxic to anyone who consumes it. (Charpail, 2017).
According to (Charpail, 2017), 20% of global water pollution comes from the textile industry via treating and dying processes. The article also mentioned that another significant source of water pollution and consumption in the textile industry occurs in cotton farming. The article stated that 20,000 litres of water is required to produce 1 kg of cotton. Unfortunately, water usage is not the only issue with cotton farming; most of the water used to produce the cotton is often contaminated with fertilisers. In developing countries (where most of the cotton farming is based) there is no treatment or filtering processes for the wastewater and it is often released back into waterways, eventually making its way back out to sea or becoming utilised by native populations to survive. The wastewater which makes its way back to oceans is also shown to be carrying 190,000 tonnes of textiles micro plastics out to sea each year.
(Bick, Halsey and Ekenga, 2018) stated that (globally) 80 billion pieces of clothing are purchased every year equating to a 1.2 trillion-dollar industry. The study claims that America consumes the most clothing (globally) per year and that an estimated 85% of that is sent to landfill taking up nearly 5% of all landfill volume. The study also stated that clothing that does not go to landfill generally goes to secondhand stores, however, 500,000 tonnes of clothing is also exported to LMIC’s. Most LMIC’s will distribute or re-sell these garments, but items that could not be re-homed sadly end up as waste; many LMIC’s do not have effective waste management systems. This waste ends up in waterways, beaches, parklands, and on the street.
The textile industry has created a global crisis and it is unfortunate that COVID-19 PPE safety measures have contributed to this. In late 2019 the pandemic spread throughout the world causing chaos in all aspects of the textile supply chain. The biggest hit to the supply chain was the increase in PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), especially protective face masks.
Since late 2019, the production of face masks has dramatically increased. (University of Southern Denmark, 2021) estimated that the global population is consuming 123 billion face masks per month noting that many of these masks are made of micro plastics. These plastic face masks have a larger impact than the plastic bottle industry which contributes 43 billion bottles per month.
The global textile crisis needs to be addressed through education of the average consumer; our future depends on it. Organisations such as The Ocean Cleanup, The UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, World’s Biggest Garage Sale, Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR), The Australian Circular Fashion and Fashion Revolution all have the same goal in mind: to educate and help create a cleaner world.
The Ocean Cleanup aim to clean 90% of the ocean’s surface, World’s Biggest Garage Sale resell clothing online whilst educating consumers on the circular product lifecycle and encouraging their dormant goods to be sold or donated to a new home, and the Australian Circular Fashion aim to educate and provide practical solutions to the textile industry to facilitate a circular product life cycle with a goal of zero textile waste.
Without change the global textile industry will continue to wreak havoc on our global ecosystems and create sustainability issues that future generations will be even further hard pressed to alleviate. Although many companies and organisation are starting to create a better environment, it is the average consumer that ultimately has the greatest impact. By reducing the number of clothing articles purchased every year, purchasing less synthetic clothing, recycling, donating, and re-purposing, the individual can have the power to effect significant change, which when applied to the global collective can bring widespread systemic changes to an industry in immediate need of reform. Through education and awareness, we will create a cleaner tomorrow.
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