Problems with Fast Fashion

These days, all the products and goods we need are at our fingertips, from the most basic to the most sophisticated. This unfettered consumption by a minority of the global population is causing a resource deficit. During natural resource extraction, we obtain raw materials and energy from nature to produce goods and services. Many of these resources are not renewable or regenerate very slowly, leading to overuse and exploitation. As the demand for goods increases, the need to produce these goods also increases. This leads to more pollutant emissions, increased land use and deforestation, and accelerated climate change. In the production and distribution of products, the price of products often does not reflect the real environmental or social cost of producing them, it excludes pollution effects or underpaid labor and thus impacts the health and quality of the life of people. The environmental and social costs which are not booked are known as negative externalities.

A trend in our society that causes excessive problems is fast fashion. Fast fashion is a term used to describe a highly profitable business model where replications of the most recent fashion trends are mass-produced at a low cost. Clothing production has doubled as clothing companies have gone from releasing only two lines of clothing a year to now releasing an average of six. More of us tend to buy cheap clothes that are trendy during a particular time but don’t last. When clothes are purchased, sales growth is based on planned obsolescence. This happens when companies make clothes with a deliberately short life span so that consumers have to re-purchase more frequently. This is why products are manufactured not to last. Fast fashion is the second-largest polluter in the world, just after the oil industry. Although consumers might enjoy having inexpensive and stylish clothes, fast fashion has been criticized for its environmental and ethical impact. The major problems with fast fashion are:

1. Textile Waste

We’re more likely to throw away cheap, trendy clothes than more expensive, timeless pieces. Tons of textile waste is generated as more people buy cheaper clothes more often and continue throwing them away after only a few wears. Sometimes the clothes are hardly worn and rarely recycled. 

2. CO2 Emissions

Besides the sheer bulk of waste in landfills, fast fashion has an impact on the environment through carbon emissions. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global CO2 emissions each year. That’s more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Carbon emissions occur during transportation from factories to retail outlets. Then they occur again by the consumer during purchase, either in person or online. They can occur a final time when the consumer discards the product and it is taken to a landfill and sometimes burned.

3. Water Pollution

In addition to CO2 pollution, these clothing items can contribute to marine pollution. Clothes made out of synthetic fabrics can contain microplastics. When they are washed or if they are sitting in a landfill and are subject to rains, these tiny shreds of plastic are flushed into wastewater systems and eventually make their way out into the ocean. Studies have shown the plastic fibers can end up in the stomachs of marine animals, including some that wind up as seafood. In most of the countries in which garments are produced, untreated toxic wastewaters from textile factories are dumped directly into the rivers. Wastewater contains toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, among others. These are extremely harmful to the aquatic life and the health of millions of people living by those river banks. The contamination also reaches the sea and eventually spreads around the globe. Another major source of water contamination is the use of fertilizers for cotton production, which heavily pollutes runoff waters and evaporation waters.

4. Deforestation

To produce food on planet earth, we need healthy soil and healthy forests. Because both absorb CO2, they are essential for preventing global warming too. Yet another thing that’s wrong with the fast fashion industry, is that it hurts soil, woodland, and our entire ecosystems. Goats and sheep, raised for their wool, are overgrazed in pastures. Overgrazing leads to soil erosion, land degradation, loss of valuable plant species, food shortages, and famine. Chemicals used in the production of fabrics like cotton also degrade the soil. Wood-based fibers, like rayon and viscose, cause mass deforestation. Thousands of hectares of endangered and ancient rainforests are felled every year. They are replaced by plantations of trees used to make wood-based fabrics, this harms indigenous communities as well as the earth.

5. Unsafe Labor Conditions

To mass-produce so many inexpensive garments so quickly, items often aren’t ethically made. Fast fashion companies exploit their overseas workers to maximize profits. Fast fashion is bad for workers, especially young and underage women. These women work long hours with minimal pay and they work in unsafe working conditions. Many women start working underage because they need a way to support themselves. Not only do these workers get paid measly wages, but they are also subjected to dangerous working conditions with no benefits or protection. There are instances throughout history, such as when the Rana Plaza workshop collapsed in 2013 killing over 1000 workers. The combination of working long hours, underpayment, and extremely unsafe conditions are just some ways companies exploit their workers. Workers can be exposed to caustic chemicals and dyes and may work in dangerous situations where safety may not be a concern.

The modern society of consumerism and rampant ‘development’ is destroying our world. The biggest problem with consumerism is the fact that people do not realize that there is a problem. We are already consuming resources at an alarming rate and quicker than our planet can replenish. We are currently consuming resources at an unsustainable rate, which is causing mass environmental destruction and social problems across the world. 

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