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Biodiversity: How Clothes You Wear are Affecting It

Biodiversity can be broadly defined as all the different kinds of life you can find in an area- the variety of animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms like bacteria that make up the natural world. Each one of these species and organisms works together to maintain balance and sustain life. And yet our biodiversity is declining at a rapid speed over the last few years.

The apparel industry hugely contributes to the rapid degradation of biodiversity. The fashion supply chain is directly connected to soil degradation, conversion of the natural ecosystem, and waterway pollution. Even though there are solutions to reduce the degradation of biodiversity the first step lies in building awareness and willingness to change.

How is Fashion Industry affecting biodiversity?

There is an increase in the amount of buying clothes by the consumers to keep up with the changing trends. But the rate of buying clothes is not on par with how long the clothes are kept. Most of these clothes end up in the dump either because they are worn out or outgrown. The equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second.

Through various quantitative analyses, it is said that the most negative impact on biodiversity comes from – raw-material production, material preparation and processing, and end of life, and these stages of value chains affect land and water bodies along with huge chemical pollution, waste production, and energy consumption.

Water Pollution

From production to disposal, the apparel industry is highly dependent on water. By cheaply disposing of untreated factory waste into streams and rivers, many brands concentrate on profits over clean water. The overflow of chemicals, dyes, and other waste produced during the production process is directly polluting the local communities’ fresh water supplies and ecosystems.

Water Consumption

As of 2020, the fashion industry uses over 79 trillion liters of water every year. Over 40 countries in the world face severe water scarcity. The fashion industry takes water as granted whereas for many this water is a luxury. In times of increasing scarcity of fresh water, the apparel industry is worsening the situation.

Use of Toxic Chemicals

Chemicals are applied to clothes for various performance functions, including wrinkle resistance, shrink resistance, and many more such functions. From production to disposal, a lot of chemicals are used in the process. Some of them are said to be linked with the formation of cancerous cells. These chemicals are harmful to the consumers but are even more hazardous for the supply chain workers who come in direct contact with these toxins.

Waste Generation

Over time, the amount that our society has consumed has increased in recent decades. Even though it helps improve the economy, most of these clothes end up in landfills. Only 15% of these are recycled or donated, and the rest goes directly to the landfill or is incinerated. These solid wastes eventually end up in the water bodies ultimately resulting in the disruption of marine life. This directly impacts animals as well as human beings who reside in the region. 

Microplastics

Many synthetic clothing fabrics, such as polyester and nylon, are made from plastic. When you wash this fabric, they start to degenerate and form “microplastics”. These small pieces of microplastics get into fresh water and eventually move to the ocean. As these small pieces of plastics cannot be removed from the water they end up in the freshwater supplies and thus make their way into our food chain causing negative health impacts.

Soil Degradation

The degradation of soil is one of the main environmental issues our planet is currently facing. The apparel industry affects the degradation of soil in various ways. Some of the main reasons include overgrazing by the sheep and goats for wool, excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers to grow cotton, and huge cutting of trees caused to extract wood-based fibers.

Forest Destruction

Forests are often thought of as the ‘lungs of the Earth’. They help ensure the air we breathe, and the water we drink is clean, and they are also home to a biodiverse array of plant and animal life, and they even help us to combat the climate crisis – securely storing carbon inside of them. But even our precious forests are not safe from the activities of the fashion industries.

Fabrics like viscose and rayon are made from wood pulp. It is estimated the fashion industry is responsible for the cutting of seventy million trees each year and this count is likely to increase in the next 20 years.

GHGs Emissions

According to various sources, the fashion industry alone accounts for 10% of the global carbon emissions. The industry is generating huge amounts of greenhouse gases during its span of production, manufacturing, and transportation. The amount of carbon emission is highly dependent on the material, synthetic fibers have less impact on land and water than grown materials like cotton.

Our quest for the protection of biodiversity starts with companies who can measure their environmental impacts and understand areas where they can improve. The next step is for the companies to find more ethical ways of production and stay true to their conscious. And lastly, it is up to the consumers to stimulate the necessary change by voting with their wallets.