The fastest delivery of the newest trends to consumers is the lifeblood of the fashion industry. About 150 billion articles of apparel are produced annually, and this scale unavoidably has a price.
A significant percentage of clothing is eventually discarded. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that one garbage truck’s worth of clothing is burned or deposited in a landfill every second.
Between 3 and 6.7 percent of all global man-made emissions are carbon emissions from unsustainable fabrics used in the making of clothes. This results from both the attention paid to the fabric during manufacture and the attention paid to you after you make a purchase.
The majority of harm that clothing causes to the environment comes from washing it, and the harm varies depending on the fabric. Therefore, if it’s possible to skip cleaning your garments, do so.
Although there are more advantageous possibilities than others, there is no genuinely sustainable fabric. Two of the most crucial factors for choosing sustainable materials are the amount of resources used in production and a product’s life cycle analysis.
As buyers, we can reduce the negative effects of fashion. We’ve compiled a list of the worst fabrics for the environment to assist you in making more informed choices about the clothing materials you should stay away from.
Table of Contents
Unsustainable Fabrics You should avoid as much as possible
The least sustainable ones are typically made of synthetic fibers, although you’ll see that’s not always the case. Let’s look at these unsustainable fabrics.
- Fur and Wool
Because polyester is made of plastic, every time it is washed (or if it ends up in the ocean), it releases tiny pieces of plastic into nearby rivers.
It is petroleum-based, like many other man-made fabrics, thus it won’t biodegrade. Sadly, this waste is accumulating in landfills and will do so for hundreds of years.
It still rules the fashion industry despite its detrimental effects on the environment. Our apparel is mostly made of polyester. If you don’t believe me, check the labels on every piece of clothing in your closet. Due to the low cost of polyester, the production of garments has expanded as a result of quick fashion and rising demand.
The best we can do now is to recycle existing polyester and use it to produce new clothing. This is referred to as rPET (recycled polyester), for short.
This material is primarily used in sportswear. Another fabric that is bad for the environment is nylon. It contributes significantly to plastic trash and, like polyester, sheds microplastics.
It originates from crude oil, which is a limited resource like all plastic ingredients. That’s not all, though. The entire process of making nylon is unsustainable. It must first be removed from the ground, a process that uses a lot of energy and devastates natural habitats.
Additionally, it wastes even more energy and generates hazardous contaminants throughout manufacture. Nylon is a synthetic material, hence it is recycled. Some businesses already employ recycled nylon to reduce their usage of new plastic and increase the circularity of the fashion industry.
Cashmere goat hair is used to make cashmere fiber. To meet the high demand for cashmere, millions of goats are raised. Instead of trimming the grass, goats pull it out by the roots, which prevents it from growing back and causes the land to become desertified.
Another natural material that is not sustainable is leather, and here’s why. First of all, it is unethical since animals must die so that we may obtain their skin. The industries of beef and leather are distinct from one another. Never assume that leather is made from animals that have already been killed.
Additionally, it must go through several harmful treatments, including bleaching and tanning, before it can be purchased on the high street.
Piatex is the eco-friendliest substitute for leather, as I mentioned earlier. That’s now the greatest alternative, but it’s still relatively new, so few manufacturers are utilizing it.
Acrylic fabric is used to make a variety of common home products, such as rugs, hats, gloves, and sweaters. The fact that it keeps its wearer warm during the cold months is evidence of the material’s appeal. Regarding the possible repercussions on the environment and your health, you might not feel as optimistic.
Acrylic is not easily recycled and can stay in a landfill for up to 200 years before biodegrading, just like its synthetic sibling, polyester. According to estimates, fibers from synthetic clothing make up 20% to 35% of the main source of microplastics in the marine environment.
Cotton is a common textile material. Because of its remarkable breathability, this cloth is used to make a lot of your T-shirts and blue jeans. Cotton is traditionally grown in a way that poses social and environmental problems.
1,931 liters of irrigation water and 6,003 liters of rainfall are needed to grow cotton for a t-shirt and pair of trousers. The overflowing water supply is spilled with chemicals and colors. Since it is expensive to dispose of these hazardous chemicals properly, many corporations turn to poisoning waterways to reduce costs.
Conventional cotton farming employs 5.7 percent of all pesticides and around 16% of all insecticides sold globally. These chemicals endanger the health of farmers, our land, and our water supply, and they also cause global warming.
Although made from plants, this cloth is incredibly bad for the environment and is a perfect example of textile industry greenwashing. The assertion that rayon is a more eco-friendly fabric alternative than either polyester or cotton may be contested.
The fast-fashion industry frequently uses rayon, which necessitates intensive chemical processes, a lot of water use, and a lot of energy, to create affordable clothing. During these procedures, hazardous chemicals are released into the air and water, endangering the health of nearby residents as well as the workers themselves.
In addition, the demand for this plant-based chemical has increased the requirement for plants. A significant contributor to deforestation, including that of sensitive and vulnerable ecosystems, is the harvesting of trees for the manufacture of rayon. Both severely endangered and more widespread species are put in peril by the loss of habitat for the creatures that call these trees their homes.
8. Fur and Wool
According to PETA, 85% of the skins used in the fur industry, come from animals kept in captivity in fur factory farms. Fur farmers confine animals in cramped cages, which cause the animals pain and suffering, to reduce expenses and increase profits.
After being stripped of their fur, the animals are subsequently poisoned, impaled, or electrocuted to death. The animals may occasionally be skinned alive.
Of course, there are exceptions to any rule. Thankfully, a lot of companies are now using more eco-friendly materials for their apparel. For instance, regenerated wool and cotton are excellent substitutes because they use a lot less water during production.
In addition to using less energy than virgin polyester, recycled polyester prevents landfills from overflowing with plastic. There is still a considerable effort to be made to develop a biodegradable form of polyester because that still doesn’t address the problem of the microplastics that polyester sheds.
Check the label every time. Don’t ignore the situation. Be mindful of the purchases you make.
Become a more thoughtful shopper. Each of us may do our part to improve our sustainability. We can alter the fashion business one step at a time. The damage that fashion and clothing currently do should not be as severe.
As much as you can, try to select sustainable fabrics and err on the side of slow fashion as opposed to rapid.
Know how your clothing affects others and where your money is going. Consumers must exercise greater responsibility and acknowledge that their purchases do have an impact on the world if we are to improve it.
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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.