How Fashion Harms the Environment

How fashion harms the environment

Fashion – the second largest polluting industry as well as second largest consumer of world’s water supply.

This post focuses on global warming.

Global warming is often talked about on news and media. It’s one of the major issues that’s responsible for global climate change.

I often hear this term, including carbon emission, carbon footprint, climate crisis and so on.

But what is global warming and how does fashion play part in it?

What’s Global Warming?

Global warming essentially comes from the greenhouse effect, which is an important mechanism for the Earth to stay warm.

The direct sunlight or visible light we receive from the sun enters the Earth’s atmosphere.

70% of these lights get absorbed by the Earth – through the land, the ocean, rocks, etc.

The other 30% bounces straight back to the atmosphere and eventually back to the outer space.

Naturally, we have greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from natural activities like occasional volcanic eruptions.

These greenhouse gases absorbs the heat/energy that have bounced back from the Earth – retaining heat, keeping the Earth warm.

If it wasn’t for this, the Earth will be 10°C colder!

The issue is the growing population and increasing demand in resources – we are emitting more greenhouse gases than ever.


3 Greenhouse Gases

I was only thinking of carbon dioxide since that’s all I hear from the news and media.

But there are actually 3 main green house gases.

  • Carbon Dioxide – we’re probably most familiar with this. It’s a by-product of combustion of organic materials like timber, etc.
  • Nitrous Oxide – is also a by-product of combustion of organic materials as well as nitrogen fertilisers used in large scale crop fields. There may not be as much emission compared to CO2, but scientists are watching on this as it absorbs 270 times more heat/energy compared to CO2.
  • Methane – comes from combustible gas, decomposing organic material like food wastes in landfills and digestive gases from large herd of livestock.

Since the beginning of the industrial era, we have been emitting large amount of greenhouse gases.

These gases let the sun light pass through, but they absorb the heat/energy as it bounces back from the Earth.

They absorb, release, re-absorb, release. This chain reaction repeats few times before it finally gets released back to the outer space – causing the Earth to retain heat for a longer period of time.

And deforestation and tree-clearing does not help the situation as trees and plants absorb CO2 to produce oxygen.


Holding it at +1.5°C and back to zero

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) found an increase of roughly 0.92°C between 1880 (which was the beginning of the industrial era) to 2015.

It doesn’t seem much, but even an increase of 1°C over the course of 100 to 200 years is considered global warming.

When the scientists talk about the “Ice Age”, which is estimated to be 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, was actually only 5°C cooler.

The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C was published by IPCC on 8 October 2018.

The report forecasts a global increase of 1.5 °C between 2030 and 2050 and how this can be reduced to net zero by 2050.

An increase of 2°C will cause challenging impacts on the ecosystems, human health; and cause more extreme weather, rising sea levels and melting Arctic ice, coral bleaching, and other impacts.

It is possible to reduce the emission.

The challenge is how quickly we can drastically reduce the emission and make sure we don’t exceed the increase of 1.5°C.

So where does fashion play part in this?

Sadly, fashion is the second largest polluting industry after oil and gas.

It contributes roughly 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon emission each year which makes up 10% of global carbon emission.


As an example, one pair of jeans (let alone it takes around 4000 litres of water to produce) is responsible for about 33.4kg of carbon emission. I wonder how many jeans on average each people own?

In Australia, we have over 500 million kgs of unwanted textiles/clothes that end up in landfill every year.

And that doesn’t even include more than 94 million kgs that are shipped overseas.

Many of these textile/clothing waste have synthetic contents like polyester – because it’s cheap. It’s a fibre derived from plastic, and they take hundreds of years to completely decompose.

And by washing synthetic materials, micro plastics enters the ocean.


  • 87% of all disposed textiles and clothes are sent to landfill or incinerated
  • 12% is mechanically recycled by cutting it or shredding it into fibre, insulation materials or rags
  • less than 1% is chemically recycled back to reusable raw materials

We now have less than 30 years to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

What we can do

  • Look after and repair your clothes
  • Consider quality over quantity
  • Buy only what you need
  • Look for natural fibres and avoid synthetics
  • wash full loads and use non-abrasive detergents using cold wash cycle
  • Recycle old clothes for rags or diy projects
  • Donate your pre-loved clothes not trash

Other lifestyle choices include:

  • Walk or ride to places
  • Turn off lights and other appliances when you’re not using – power plants most probably generate greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels (especially in Australia!)
  • Find renewable energy provider
  • Car-pool if you can or drive fuel efficient cars that emit less CO2 or hybrid cars
  • Plant trees or plants where you can (as they absorb CO2 and produce oxygen)
  • Recycle as much as you can so things don’t get wasted in landfills, which releases CO2
  • Start your own garden and compost bin
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