How much of your life does stuff own? How much of the world’s natural resources are burned up, thrown away, buried in landfills or otherwise consumed producing the goods you buy and use every day? asks Paul Haarman.
The average American throws away 65 pounds (30 kg) of clothing per year. Since there are about 100 million households in the United States, 300 million Americans, and 7 billion people on Earth, this means that 2.3 trillion pounds (1.04 trillion kg) of clothing get trashed every year. That is an incredible amount of material to be produced and then discarded within a couple years by just one country on one continent on one planet!
This section takes a look at some facts about why so much material ends up in landfills and other waste sites and then discusses the environmental and human costs of producing all this stuff.
The True Costs of Clothes: The End of Dressing Sexy
The average American throws away 65 pounds (30 kg) of clothing per year! Despite the recent economic downturn, there has been no decrease in consumption, so the rate at which we buy, discard, and replace clothes continues to grow at a rapid pace. Americans buy twice as many clothes today as they did twenty years ago even though they are only half as large [as our bodies]. In order to keep up with this increasing demand for cheap fashion, garment workers around the world face low wages, unsafe working conditions including exposure to toxic chemicals, and long hours. This often leads to strikes and protests for better working conditions or fair pay.
The next time you buy something made of cotton, wool, or synthetic fibers (pretty much all clothing). Know that it probably came from India. Where children as young as five years old work 12-hour days to produce your t-shirt for less than $1 US. It’s not just clothes either; textiles are the second largest industrial polluter on Earth after oil! Cotton production causes more hazardous pesticide pollution than any other crop in the world explains Paul Haarman.
The True Costs of Clothes: Sweatshops & Child Labor
The next time you buy something made of cotton, wool, or synthetic fibers (pretty much all clothing). Know that it probably came from India. Where children as young as five years old work 12-hour days to produce your t-shirt for less than $1 US.
One reason fast-fashion retailers like Zara and H&M can offer such cheap clothes is because they hire contractors, subcontractors, and sub-subcontractors which keeps them from having to pay more than the absolute minimum of wages. The working conditions are horrendously poor with activities that include “standing for hours on end, carrying heavy loads of garments and exposed to severe weather conditions.” There have also been documented cases of child labor among suppliers of H&M, Forever 21, C&A, Nike, Adidas, Puma, Li Ning (a Chinese sportswear company), Primark (a British company), Tesco, Walmart, and H&M.
The True Costs of Clothes: Water Pollution and Unsustainable Practices
Additionally, the production of clothing requires tremendous amounts of natural resources. Which are mostly used to grow cotton says Paul Haarman. Cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops in the world. Which wastes millions of gallons of non-renewable fresh water each year during irrigation. Another reason for this waste is because one pound (0.5 kg) of cotton fabric typically takes over 700 gallons (2,700 L) of water to process! That’s enough drinking water to quench an average American’s thirst for about two months! Making matters worse is that there are an estimated 1 billion people without clean drinking water worldwide.
“We are polluting the ocean with minuscule fiber particles that our children are swimming in. And they are getting into their fish that they eat, and we’re eating the fish. And it goes back to our health.” – Mark J. Plotkin, ethnobotanist at the Amazon Conservation Team
The True Costs of Clothes: Toxic Chemicals & Dying Bodies of Water
Pretty much all clothing of cotton or synthetic fibers is treat with toxic chemicals during production. Which end up as pollutants in nearby streams and rivers. Once these chemicals reach large bodies of water like oceans, estuaries, and bays. They start to react with sunlight which degrades them into more dangerous byproducts
The problems of sweatshops, child labor, water pollution, and unsustainable practices exist. Because consumers are not inform or educate about the true costs of fashion says Paul Haarman. As long as we continue to buy our clothes at fast-fashion retailers like Zara and H&M, manufacturers will use extremely cheap labor to make ever-cheaper clothes which inevitably leads to more hazardous pollution and chronic health problems for those who make our clothes.