The fashion industry is one of the largest industries in the world, with 2021 revenues of over $1.5 billion - these revenues are estimated to increase to $1.9 billion by 2026. The rapid expansion of the fashion industry and fast fashion brands has come at a huge cost to the environment. Here we will discuss the impact that the fashion industry poses to aquatic life, and what we can do to minimise the damage.
What impact is the fashion industry having on aquatic life?
Aquatic life encompasses both land and ocean waters, and their inhabitants – both plants and animals. The fashion industry is having devastating effects on aquatic life in many steps of the supply chain. The most damaging sources of aquatic pollution come from the textile dying stage and the various forms of plastic released from fabric to consumer.
Textile dying is one of the greatest sources of pollution. In many countries where the dying process takes place, there are less stringent environmental regulations so untreated chemical dyes are released straight into rivers and streams. Once in the waterways, the chemicals accumulate and can cut off sunlight, inhibiting the photosynthesising abilities of plants. The lower oxygen levels in water kill aquatic plants and animals. Furthermore, the chemicals can have an adverse effect on fish, with a recent study showing fish to have both metabolic and behavioural changes when exposed to textile leaches.
The fashion industry uses vast amounts of plastic - fabrics made from crude oil-derived polyester, plastic packaging and microfibres released during washing. Much of this plastic ends up in rivers and oceans. When we no longer want clothes, they are sent to landfill and, in some countries, waste is dumped straight into the oceans! When we wash our clothes, they shed and release microfibres which end up in the water ways. A recent study found that 92% of the plastic found in the Artic Ocean was microfibres, believed to be shed by synthetic clothing in the washing machine – this highlights the extent of global plastic pollution with plastic particles being rife in the seemingly pristine environments. Large amounts of plastic are also used in packaging – the garment bags from factories and plastic mailing bags.
To dive deeper into the impacts of plastic pollution on the marine environment, check out this blog.
With clothing consumption at an all-time high, it is important that we take a step back and think of the impact of our shopping habits and how we can reduce our impact on the environment.
1. Shop Sustainably
Check to see a brands environmental rating and where their clothes are made. Do they specify that they treat their wastewater or don’t use harsh dyes? Do they use virgin or recycled polyester? Are their clothes made ethically and sustainably? Do they use plastic packaging?
2. Washing clothes to reduce microfibre release
Wash clothes on cold
Stop using the tumble dryer for everything
Fill up your washing machine – more clothes means less friction and less microfibre release
Wash less – don’t wash your clothes unless they’re dirty – this will also mean they last longer!
3. Only buy what you need
Mindless consumption and internet trends has led to us buying way more clothes than we need, often at a cheaper price and lower quality! Buy fewer clothes of a good quality clothes that will stand the test of time – this doesn’t have to be expensive. Check out Depop, Ebay, Vestiare or local vintage and charity shops for great clothes at a fraction of the price.
It isn't all doom and gloom though... There are many great brands out there trying their best to produce sustainable clothing. At KAMI we are proud to be doing all we can to reduce our environmental footprint and leave this planet in a better condition than how we found it. We use no harsh dyes, all the manufacturers that we work with re-use and treat any wastewater, and we use no plastic packaging. Our garment bags dissolve in hot water and our mailer bags look and feel like plastic but are 100% biodegradable, made from potato starch. We also donate a percentage of the sale of each item to the Marine Conservation Society in order to aid in their efforts to clean and protect our oceans.