Environmental impacts of our ‘extra’ lifestyle…
Our increasingly consumer-driven behaviour means we are constantly thinking about what we
need want next! We must have the latest and greatest when it comes to tech, so upgrading to the newest iPhone is a must and our social media addiction means we can’t possibly be photographed in the same outfit as last time we left the house. This behaviour sounds extreme, but is unfortunately becoming increasingly common. One of the big (and often over-looked) problems with this level of consumption is the environmental impacts and the associated waste!
Sustainable fashion is a general term based around the concept of creating a system where clothing and fashion accessories are designed, sourced, produced and sold in a social, economic and environmentally ethical manner, through a cycle that can be managed indefinitely. Our current level of consumption means that implementing this system is far easier said than done. The fashion industry is one of the largest carbon contributors in the modern world, with recent estimates suggesting it is responsible for the generation of a massive 1.26 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually! Material and textile production, manufacture and transport are significant contributors, as is our penchant for online shopping. The rise of E-commerce means that we are now able to search and then purchase items from anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes. For some, this is a dream come true, but the associated packaging and delivery processes are an environmental nightmare.
The gradual shift to ‘fast’ fashion means that the shelf-life of our clothing items has also decreased dramatically. A recent survey found that on average, Australian women wear an item just seven times before disposing of it! Although some of these unwanted items go to charity, a great deal is thrown in the rubbish bin without a second thought. In addition to greenhouse gas emissions and tonnes of textiles in landfill, our fashion obsession is also having detrimental effects on our global waterways. There has been significant development in the production of synthetic fabrics (i.e. materials derived from plastic), and these days you would be hard-pressed to find a wardrobe without nylon, rayon, spandex or acrylic garments! Whilst synthetic fabrics have many desirable qualities, such as added stretch or stain resistance, there is a definite downside to these chemically-created materials. The mechanical abrasion forces of a standard washing machine cycle can release hundreds of thousands of micro-plastic fibres from our favourite outfits into our wastewater. Whilst some of these plastic particles are captured within our water treatment plants, worryingly the remaining plastic pollutants are released into our river systems and ultimately the ocean. The impacts of micro-plastic pollution are significant and far-reaching, with recent studies demonstrating that micro-plastics enter the food chain and bioaccumulate with dire consequences.
So what can you do to help?
- Within your budget constraints, look to invest in classic and well manufactured pieces that will last the test of time.
- Buy local and consider second-hand items
- Opt for sustainably sourced, natural fibres, such as cotton, hemp, wool, linen and silk or source recycled materials and garments
- Always wash your garments in cold water and line-dry
- Reduce impulse buying – do you really need that piece in your wardrobe?
- Join a local Buy Nothing group or take part in a friends clothes swap!
Written by Sarah-Jane McMahon |Environmental Education Officer