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The Fashion Industry's Impact on the Environment

The fashion industry, as a whole, makes significant negative impacts on the environment, both before and after it’s products end up in landfills. Social constructs encourage Americans to participate in fast fashion, mainly through buying clothing from malls, although they are unaware of the impacts that has on the environment. Americans are currently the biggest consumers of clothing in the world, accountable for buying 21 billion garments a year, with only 100 billion made worldwide. This has led to 25 billion garments being thrown away a year into the trash instead of being donated, and ultimately ending up in landfills. According to Elizabeth Cline, an expert on consumer culture, nearly 95% of clothing that is manufactured is either reusable or recyclable, though it tends to end up in landfills. The billions of garments in landfills left to decompose has led to 10% of all CO2 emissions being due to the fashion industry, globally. The process of manufacturing clothing, though, is just as harmful as when garments are left to decompose in landfills. Manufacturing companies use 19 million tons of chemicals, 24 trillions gallons of water and 342 million barrels of oil a year, leading to pollution and water waste. Although manufacturing significantly impacts the environment, a majority of the harm is done once apparel ends up in landfills. A common misconception is that recycling plastic bottles or bags takes care of the majority of plastic waste; although, a majority of clothing is made of synthetic materials, such as nylon or acrylic, which contain plastic. Thus, by throwing out clothing, specifically when they are made of synthetic materials, leads to yet another single use plastic product ending up in landfills. Aside from synthetic materials, a majority of fabrics have negative environmental impacts, such as the releasing of methane which is 24 times more potent than CO2. Additionally, the manufacturing of apparel, meaning clothing, accessories, shoes etc, is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, which are non-renewable and send micro plastics into the oceans, as well as pesticides that pollute the grounds and water when utilizing cotton. The fashion industry is the third most popular industry in the world, yet is accountable for a considerable amount of environmental problems which are rarely talked about.

Sustainable fashion, though, has been heavily rising into popularity in the past decades with thrifting and consignment stores becoming more prevalent. Buying second hand, and donating clothing not only provides opportunities to buy affordable clothing but significantly reduces the environmental impact of the fashion industry, especially in terms of our carbon footprint. As mentioned by Erin Wallace, the brand director of ThredUp, if every person in the U.S bought just one piece of apparel used through thrift or consignment shops instead of buying them new, it would be the equivalent to taking half of a million cars off the road for a year. The good news is that Gen-Z have been reported to adapt second hand buying at double the speed of any other generation, where 1 in 3 have bought a second-hand item in 2019. However, we can not stop there. Gen-Z must raise awareness on the importance of sustainable fashion and accelerate the positive trend to minimize the detrimental environmental effects and build a more sustainable future.

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