Ethical Fashion: Part 4, The Dirty Truth

Posted: Mar 12 2018


Okay, it’s time to talk some trash, and I mean unbelievable, incomprehensible, mind-blowing truths about garbage. Until very recently, the fashion industry has been pegged as the second largest polluting industry on the planet. However, after a recent, behemoth of an analysis conducted by The Global Fashion Agenda the fashion industry now ranks as the 5th most polluting, from strictly a carbon-emissions standpoint. It’s worth noting that the study didn’t factor in the devastating effects of water pollution from factories world-wide, for some reason.

This post will vary from my others in that I am not going to put any personal spin on the piece. The stats will speak for themselves and there isn’t much I can say to intensify or detract from their truths. I will say that if you want to stay in the know when it comes to uncovering the facts about the environmental impact of the fashion industry you would do well to subscribe to emails from EcoCult, Fashion Revolution, Lucy Siegle, and Elizabeth Cline. Also, take a moment to read the sources I cite at the article’s conclusion. Finally, I’m breaking down these truth-bombs into categories according to their  impact: water consumption, water pollution, carbon emissions, use of resources, and final disposal.

Water Consumption:

-A single pair of jeans churns out 44 pounds of carbon during manufacture and requires 2,700 gallons of water to make.

-The annual environmental impact of a household’s clothing is equivalent to the water needed to fill 1,000 bathtubs and the carbon emissions from driving an average modern car for 6,000 miles.

Water Pollution:

-A fifth of all industrial water pollution is caused by the fashion industry.

-A quarter of all chemicals produced worldwide are used by the textile and clothing industry.

-Plastic microfibers shed while laundering our synthetic clothes is a leading cause of ocean pollution. They account for 85% of the human-made material found along ocean shores.

Carbon Emissions:

-The global fashion industry uses nearly 1 billion kWh of electricity or 130 million tonnes of coal per year, making the industry a significant contributor to global greenhouse emissions.  It’s estimated that fashion is responsible for 5% – 10% of global carbon impact.

-The production of polyester, the world’s most common textile, is soon to reach 73 million tons annually, weighing as much as 200 Empire State Buildings.

-Fast fashion garments, which we wear less than 5 times and keep for 35 days, produce over 400% more carbon emissions per item per year than garments worn 50 times and kept for a full year.

-As of 2009, the U.S. textile industry was the 5th largest contributor to CO2 emissions in the United States.  In the developing world, where the textile industry represents a larger percentage of GDP and mills are often antiquated, the CO2 emissions are much greater.

Use of Resources:

-Over 70 million trees are logged every year to make rayon, viscose, modal and lyocell, enough trees that if placed end-to-end they’d circle the Earth seven times.

--Cotton is the world’s single largest pesticide-consuming crop, using 24% of all insecticides and 11% of all pesticides globally, adversely affecting soil and water.


-The amount of unwanted clothing generated in the United States every year, at 12.5 million tons, is the equivalent in weight to 57 billion t-shirts or 34 Empire State Buildings. Clothing going to landfills is one of the fastest-growing categories of waste in the United States.

-More than 15 million tons of used textile waste is generated each year in the United States, and the amount has doubled over the last 20 years. In 2014, over 16 million tons of textile waste was generated, according to the U.S. EPA. Of this amount, 2.62 million tons were recycled,3.14 million tons were combusted for energy recovery, and 10.46 million tons were sent to the landfill.

-An average American throws away approximately 80 pounds of used clothing per person. On average, nationally, it costs cities $45 per ton to dispose of old clothing. Synthetic clothing may take hundreds of years to decompose.

Honestly, it was hard to know where to even start (or stop) when selecting these facts. There are countless more, should you want to dig any deeper. However, my intention here is to inform, not overwhelm. Needless to say, the fashion industry is having an enormous effect on climate change and resource depletion, and we--you and I-- are the ones who can do something about it. Thanks for sticking with me so far through the duration of this series and join me next week for my 5th piece: The Plight of Global Garment Workers. Frankly, if you think these facts are dismal, wait until you see the lives of the people who make our clothing. Hang with me, friends, I promise to point to the silver lining soon!

Love and Light,



  1. MIT Sustainable Materials Lab,
  2. O Ecotextiles,
  3. Business of Fashion,
  4. Canopy,
  5. The Guardian,
  6. The Guardian,
  7. Zady,
  8. Forbes,
  1. Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline
  2. To Die For by Lucy Siegle
  3. Textile and Clothing Recycling Facts and Figures