The clothes you wear can be horrible for the environment. Apparel production alone accounts for 10% of carbon emissions globally and fashion is the second-largest polluter in the world (after oil). Some clothes are better for the environment than others, but most are very bad.
Over two billion t-shirts are sold each year. Cotton t-shirts are especially bad for the environment and cotton is used in 40% of the world’s clothing. 2,700 liters of water are needed to produce the average cotton t-shirt, which is enough to fill more than 30 bathtubs. Cotton also uses more insecticides and pesticides than any other crop in the world. Cotton is also grown, produced, woven, and sold in different places, so it has to be shipped all over the world, enlarging cotton’s carbon footprint. Some dyes in cotton shirts contain cancer-causing cadmium, lead, chromium, and mercury. Other toxic chemicals from the production of cotton are released into rivers and lakes, contaminating these aquatic habitats.
Synthetic clothing like polyester, nylon, and acrylic are also horrible for the environment While they use much less water than cotton, they still have some major downsides. Synthetics like polyester are made from plastic, so they do not break down very quickly. Not only are synthetics not biodegradable, but they all also rely on the petrochemical industries for their raw material, meaning this fashion industry staple is dependent on fossil fuel extraction. They also shed plastic microfibers throughout their lifetime, which are even worse for natural habitats.
Clothing from animals like leather, wool, and fur are also horrible for the environment because these animals use up a ton of resources like food and water, and they pollute themselves (livestock is responsible for 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions). About one billion animals are killed for leather every year while 85% of the world’s leather is tanned with chromium, an extremely toxic substance that often leaves tannery workers with cancer and skin conditions, and other toxic chemicals are used to preserve wool and fur.
One way to be environmentally friendly is to buy clothing made from recycled materials, which extends the lifespan of an article of clothing. There are also organic materials, which do not use pesticides and are not shipped all over the world. Sadly, organic cotton only makes up 1% of all cotton. Buying clothes from thrift stores is great because good clothing does not go to waste. Turning old shirts into rags is also great because you do not have to buy more rags and the clothes are not just thrown away. One of the best things you can do is to buy fewer clothes. Consider how much you are going to wear something before you buy it, so you do not waste materials.