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Sustainable Fashion: ii. The Environmental Cost of Clothes Production

  • Tens of millions of tonnes of cotton are produced globally each year. Cotton production uses very large quantities of water (roughly 2.6% of the global water footprint for consumables), fertilisers and pesticides (many of which are considered dangerous by the World Health Organisation). Our demand for cheap cotton is leading to soil degradation and preventing bio-diversity in the eco-systems where it is grown.

Cotton Fields used for Clothing Production

  • Indigo dye is in high demand, as it is used to dye denim blue. The widespread synthetic indigo dye is made from petroleum-derived aniline in a high temperature process involving formaldehyde and cyanide (poisons). More than 50% of the world's supply is alleged to be made in Inner Mongolia, where the manufacturing process is highly secretive.

  • Globally, around 20% of industrial water pollution comes from fabric dyeing with some factories found to be dumping waste water into surrounding rivers and groundwater, affecting crops and drinking water.

  • Demand for leather goods is forecast to increase 5% a year from 2022 (from a base of a $100 billion a year global leather business). Reports and statistics vary, but the livestock industry generates an estimated 14% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

  • According to Verified Market Research, the size of the global industrial rubber market was USD 31.4 billion in 2021 and is set to grow to USD 46.66 billion by 2030.

  • Rubber production, used in the manufacturing of stretchy and waterproof footwear, has an impact on the environment. Global natural rubber production, concentrated in South-East Asia and extracted from latex-producing trees and plants, contributes to deforestation, water pollution and a decline in soil quality. Alternatively, man-made rubber is derived from petroleum, a fossil fuel. The heating process needed for molding man-made rubber results in air pollution.

  • Supplying the fashion industry with the raw materials it needs to meet consumer demand for clothing has produced industrial quantities of waste products that harm our environment. To read about the growing response to the environmental cost of clothes production, please read Sustainable Fashion Part iii: ( ).


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