For our amazing and interesting looks, textiles are very essential; however, they are not expected to be at the expense of the environment. In this article, we’re going to look at the environmental impacts of textile industry.
Textiles are the materials used to make clothing and other items that are fabric. Modern times have made fashion increasingly disposable, which has amplified cloth production by 50% in the last few decades.
The demand for textiles and a plethora of fashion brands has been elevated due to population growth. Hence, the abundance of production. After the oil industry, the textile and fashion industry takes second place in the lineup of largest polluters in the world
The environmental impact of the textile industry has become one of today’s most worrying issues. The huge amounts of waste created, coupled with a low recycling rate (only 1% is transformed into new garments), is one of the critical aspects of the production process of companies in the textile value chain.
The consequences are disastrous effects on our environment due to the exploitation of natural resources and the release of extremely harmful toxic matter. The textile and apparel industry has many negative environmental impacts.
However, many factories and governments are working together to develop cleaner manufacturing processes. This includes the products that go into textiles, the resources used to make them, and the people involved in their manufacture.
The textile industry has a long way to go, but at least it recognizes the issues and is beginning to address them. In this article, we discuss the impacts of the textile industry on the environment.
Table of Contents
10 Environmental Impacts of Textile Industry
A quick look at the focus points is discussed below.
- Air Pollution
- Overconsumption of Natural Resources
- Carbon Footprint
- Waste Generation
- Overflowing Landfill
- High Water Consumption (Water Footprint)
- Water Pollution
- Soil Degradation
1. Air Pollution
In places around the globe, many of the textile industries are major contributors to air pollution, belching out harmful gases like carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide. Even finishing processes for fabrics allow substances like formaldehyde into our atmosphere.
2. Overconsumption of Natural Resources
It takes a lot of water to produce textiles, plus land to grow cotton and other fibers. The farms that grow raw materials used to make fabrics, including crops like cotton, flax, and hemp, require a lot of water. Cotton is an especially thirsty plant.
3. Carbon Footprint
More than international flights and maritime shipping combined, the fashion industry is estimated to be responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions. Manufacturing and transportation of textile product generate tremendous amounts of greenhouse gases.
Production of synthetic fibers like nylon, acrylic, and polyester is energy extensive, as it uses up substantial amounts of fossil fuels. They emit greenhouse gases like di-nitrogen oxide, which is 300 times more dangerous for the environment as compared to carbon dioxide.
Most fashion and textile industries are set up in third world countries, where coal is utilized to power the factories. Coal is the worst kind of fossil fuel in terms of carbon emissions.
Moreover, these countries lack sufficient greenery due to widespread deforestation. As a result, the greenhouse gases remained trapped in the atmosphere for a long time. Plants can absorb many harmful gases like carbon dioxide and methane, releasing oxygen into the surrounding air to purify it.
According to the European Environment Agency, textile purchases in the EU in 2020 generated about 270 kg of CO2 emissions per person. That means textile products consumed in the EU generated greenhouse gas emissions of 121 million tonnes.
4. Waste Generation
The global production of textile fibre has doubled in the last 20 years, reaching an all-time high of 111 million tonnes in 2019 and maintaining growth forecasts for 2030. The average family in developed countries throws away at least 30kg of used clothes every year.
This increase, together with the current consumption model, leads to the generation of vast amounts of textile waste; in Spain alone, it is estimated that annual clothing waste is 900,000 tonnes.
Only 15% of discarded textiles are donated or recycled. Recycled clothing is not very popular, as industries that process old clothing to renew it are still rare. The remaining waste is a huge burden on our landfills, especially synthetic materials used in textiles; synthetic cloth fibers normally contain plastics, which take over 200 years to decompose.
5. Overflowing Landfill
Due to the low recycling rate for textile waste, more than 85% of products discarded by consumers end up in landfills or incinerators and only 13% is recycled in some form after use.
Most are transformed into other lower-value items such as rags, insulation, or filler material, and less than 1% is recycled into new fiber.
Therefore, to protect the environment, it will not be enough to ensure the selective collection of textile waste but will require the research and development of technologies that enable the recycling of the fibers with the aim of maintaining their value for as many cycles as possible.
6. High Water Consumption (Water Footprint)
Not only does textile production consume a lot of plant resources it also uses a lot of water as well as. The textile and fashion industry consumes about 1.5 trillion tons of water per year.
It is estimated that the global textile and clothing industry used 79 billion cubic meters of water in 2015, while the needs of the entire EU economy amounted to 266 billion cubic meters in 2017.
To make a single cotton T-shirt, estimates indicate that 2,700 liters of fresh water are needed the amount of water a person drinks in two and a half years.
Dyeing and finishing processes take up massive quantities of fresh water; on average, one ton of dyed fabric uses 200 tons of water. Moreover, cotton crops require plenty of water to grow.
Around 20,000 liters of water yield only 1kg of cotton. The high rate of water consumption by cloth manufacturing businesses raises concerns because of the issue of water problem and scarcity.
7. Water Pollution
According to estimates, textile production is estimated to be responsible for about 20% of global drinking water pollution from dyeing and finishing products.
Wastewater released by textile industries is loaded with toxic substances; lead, arsenic, and mercury are a few to name. Synthetic laundry accounts for 35% of the primary microplastics released into the environment, it releases about 0.5 million tonnes of microfibres each year, which end up on the bottom of the oceans.
A single load of polyester clothing can release 700,000 microplastic fibers that can end up in the food chain. In addition to this global problem, the contaminated water bodies have a devastating and deleterious effect on the health of human beings, animals, and ecosystems where the factories are located.
8. Soil Degradation
The high demand for cotton crops throughout the year, the cutting down of trees to manufacture clothing materials like Rayon, and the raising of sheep to acquire wool are all connected to the fashion and textile industry.
The roots of trees help hold the soil in place and the tree canopies shelter it from changing and adverse climatic conditions. Without the cover of trees, the earth’s surface is exposed to excessive wind and water, causing soil erosion. Erosion depletes the land of essential nutrients needed for plant growth, turning the soil barren over time.
Also, when cotton crops are seeded and harvested on a piece of land without interval, the soil loses fertility. Farmers add artificial fertilizers to quickly replenish the soil; the chemicals in artificial fertilizers give rise to several other problems.
Many of them are poisonous for farmers, consumers, useful pests, and other animal life in the surroundings. Flocks of sheep that are not confined roam across farmlands and eat all the foliage. Their overgrazing puts pressure on agriculture to grow more vegetation, thereby contributing to soil degradation.
Manufacturing rayon, an artificial fabric made from wood pulp, has resulted in the loss of many old-growth forests. During the process that transforms it into fabric, the pulp is treated with dangerous chemicals that eventually find their way into the environment.
These were some very useful observations of the impacts of textile and fashion industries on the environment. Therefore, manufacturers should start implementing the 4 R’s (reduce, reuse, repair, and recycle) when it comes to textiles that could be recycled using advanced technology now.
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Ahamefula Ascension is a Real Estate Consultant, Data Analyst, and Content writer. He is the founder of Hope Ablaze Foundation and a Graduate of Environmental Management in one of the prestigious colleges in the country. He is obsessed with Reading, Research and Writing.