The Environmental Impact of Fashion


Did you know the fashion industry produces 10% of all humanity's carbon emissions? And that's not even the bad news...

If you follow us on social media you will know that we already talk about the impact of fashion on the environment. It is staggering to know that the fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined.

If you find the stats that we publish about the leather industry fascinating then you should find this round up just as interesting.

Of course, what we are talking about is fast fashion, how this has changed and the impact it is having on our planet.

What do we know for certain?

Fast fashion makes shopping for clothes more affordable, and most of us know this comes at a big cost. The fashion industry produces 10% of all humanity's carbon emissions, is the second-largest consumer of the world's fresh water supply, and it pollutes the oceans with microplastics.

But what are the main drivers of this?

Production volume

Clothing production has roughly doubled since 2000 and exceeded100 billion for the first time in 2014. This translates to nearly 14 items of clothing for every person on earth.

In Europe, back in 2000, fashion companies would launch two fashion collections each year. In 2011 this changed to five collection per year. Today, some brands offer even more. H&M offers between 12 and 16 collections annually, whilst Zara puts out 24 collections every year.

In 2014, consumers purchased around 60% more garments than in 2000, but only kept the clothes for half as long.

Some estimates even suggest that consumers treat the lowest-priced garments as nearly disposable, discarding them after just seven or eight wears.


Cheap fast fashion is more likely to end up in landfill. In fact, the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second. A staggering 85% of all textiles will end up in landfills each year.

Used clothes discarded in the Atacama Desert, in Alto Hospicio, Iquique, Chile. [Martin Bernetti/AFP] (Also header image)

In fact, we have begun shipping and dumping fashion waste in other places too. Some 59,000 tonnes of clothing are shipped to Chile each year, a hub for unsold and second-hand clothing from China and Bangladesh. Of this, it is estimated that at least 39,000 tonnes that cannot be sold end up in rubbish dumps in the desert.


Washing clothes, releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean every year. This is equivalent to 50 billion plastic bottles. Many of these fibres are polyester, a synthetic material estimated to be a component in 60% of all garments. Producing polyester releases two to three times more carbon emissions than cotton and it is not biodegradable.

Water intensity

It’s estimated that the fashion industry currently uses around93 billion cubic metres of water per year, which is four percent of all freshwater extraction globally.

The fashion industry is the second-largest consumer of water worldwide. It takes about 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton shirt. That's enough water for one person to drink at least eight cups per day for three-and-a-half years.

It takes about 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans. That's more than enough for one person to drink eight cups per day for 10 years.

That's because both the jeans and the shirt are made from a highly water-intensive plant: cotton.

The Aral Sea in Uzbekistan. Once one of the worlds 4 largest lakes. []

It takes on average 10,000-20,000 litres of water to cultivate just one kilogram of raw cotton depending on where it is grown. Cotton is the most widely used natural material and the second most-produced fibre globally accounting for 24 percent of global fibre production in 2020.

In Uzbekistan cotton farming used up so much water from the Aral Sea that it went from being one of the world's four largest lakes to completely drying up. Today, the Aral Sea is now little more than a desert with a few small ponds.


Textile dyeing is the world's second-largest polluter of water, since the water leftover from the dyeing process is often dumped into ditches, streams, or rivers. It is estimated that the dyeing process demands enough water to fill 2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools every year.

In the US, cotton is the third crop with the most pesticide use. In 2017, about 48 million pounds were used in growing cotton. Experts estimate that cotton consumes 8 million tonnes of synthetic fertilizers and 200,000 tonnes of pesticides globally every year.

Farmers and people who live close to heavily polluted cotton farms may suffer health injuries caused by toxicity.

All in all, the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of all industrial water pollution worldwide.

What can we all do?

Aside from being informed, we can all take positive steps to remove ourselves from the problem. Fortunately for us we do not need to look very far for some inspiration. There are many people openly discussing this issue on social media as well as offering up suggestions, so you can consider finding a few you like and following them.

There are also some renowned leaders in this area too. In this article we look at published titles that will provide you with all the expert tips you'll need to make a difference.

Read Your Way To A Sustainable Wardrobe | Watson & Wolfe

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Style that’s sustainable: A new fast-fashion formula | McKinsey

Common Objective

Environmental Impact of Cotton from Growing, Farming & Consuming (


Photos of the Moynaq Ship Graveyard in Uzbekistan Desert (

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