Why is Fast Fashion Bad for the Environment in 2022 – The Situation Is Alarming

The topic of fast fashion is always a hotly debated topic on Friday evenings, especially among politicians and journalists as well as private individuals. And it is not uncommon to hear the controversial question: Why is fast fashion bad for the environment?

It’s a question that’s not only fun to ponder among friends, but also one that’s important. Because as we all know, this is about our future and especially about HOW it should look like one day.

This topic is often paradoxical: manufacturers of outdoor and sports clothing advertise with an image that suggests nature and health, but their products are polluted, i.e. they emit toxic chemicals.

These substances get into food, groundwater, and the air, endangering people’s health and the environment, Greenpeace says in testing textiles from recognized outdoor brands.

This and more is the fatal hypocrisy of such a large industry.

In general, it’s about the fact that clothing stores like Zara, Aritzia, H&M*¹, and countless others produce cheap and fashionable clothes to meet the ever-growing demand of consumers, especially younger ones.

Fast fashion, however, is still very harmful to the environment in the process. The sector is the world’s second-largest consumer of water and responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions*², and it is also the world’s largest airline operator. Fast fashion is a problem that is often overlooked in the eyes of consumers.

So today, we’d like to use our voice to address a more serious issue and hopefully give some of you food for thought the next time you’re standing in front of a tempting 70% sale at a fast fashion store and are about to pounce.

But before we answer the question “Why is fast fashion bad for the environment?”, let’s start by clarifying the question of what fast fashion is in the first place.

The Environmental Impact of Textiles
Source: The European Parliament

What is it & Why Is Fast Fashion Bad for the Environment?

Fast fashion is cheap clothing that is mass-produced and quickly delivered to consumers to maximize the latest fashion trends.

But mass production comes at a high price – it puts a huge strain on the environment:

Excessive Water Consumption

The fashion industry is the second-largest water-intensive industry, consuming 93 billion cubic meters of water per year.

Carbon Emissions

Due to the massive amount of energy used to manufacture and transport millions of garments worldwide, this industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions.

Waste From Synthetic Microfibers

When we wash synthetic clothing, about 700,000 plastic microfibers are released into the water, which can end up in our oceans and harm marine life.

Other characteristics of how you can tell a store is fast fashion:

  • Trends that are already out after a few weeks
  • Poor quality that tears, threads, stretches, or discolors after a few washes
  • The items are often characterized by a strong chemical smell
  • Low transparency & poor working conditions
  • Mainly synthetic materials
  • Disposable consumption
  • High environmental impact due to pesticides and water consumption

The Negative Effects of it + Why is Fast Fashion Bad for the Environment:

  • Toxic substances in our clothes
  • High water consumption 
  • Exploitative conditions of employment
  • Chemistry from clothing accumulates in our organs
  • Responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions
  • Microfibers pollution
  • Soil degradation
  • Waste problem
  • Child labor
  • Textile dyeing pollutes rivers and lakes

The Social Impacts of Fast Fashion & Negative Effects on Workers

Up to 5 Million Deaths from Pesticide Poisoning Annually

We often think that cotton is a good material and therefore completely harmless. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

It starts with the pesticides that workers in India, for example, spray on the plants without adequate protection.

According to international labor organizations, up to five million people die each year from pesticide poisoning.

No Access to Clean Drinking Water because of Contamination

Textile dyeing pollutes rivers and lakes. Greenpeace has repeatedly detected toxic substances in water bodies as part of its Detox campaign.

The situation is particularly alarming in China, where 320 million people no longer have access to clean drinking water.


Another problem is posed by the “finishing” of textiles. When jeans are sandblasted, for example, fine quartz sand is applied to the surface of the textiles to give them a trendy vintage look.

The fine dust settles in the lungs of the textile workers, similar to what is known from miners, and leads to silicosis, a serious disease from which the patients slowly suffocate, as research by Arte, among others, has shown.

Allergies and Multi-Resistant Germs

In addition to the effects that the color and finishing treatment of textiles have on those directly affected in the processing plants, there are also consequences for consumers.

For example, some dyes contain aromatic amines which, when released from the fabric by perspiration, trigger skin allergies.

Clothing treated with biocidal substances, for example, to kill odor-causing bacteria, also poses the risk of multi-resistant germs, against which even antibiotics are ineffective, in addition to a high allergy risk, according to Ralph Pirow of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment.

How Much Waste Does Fast Fashion Create?

How much clothes do we waste

In the years between 2000 and 2014, clothing production doubled, and the average consumer buys 60 percent more garments than 15 years ago.

The tricky part is that each garment is worn for only half as long.

Nearly 20% of the world’s wastewater is produced by the fashion industry, and in 2019, 208 million pounds of waste was generated by disposable clothing.

1 in 2 people throw their unwanted clothing directly in the trash. The result? More than half – 64% to be exact – of the 32 billion garments produced each year end up in landfills.

The Environmental Protection Agency also reports that Americans generate 16 million tons of textile waste annually, which is just over six percent of total municipal solid waste (for comparison, plastics make up 13 percent of the U.S. waste stream).

How Does Fast Fashion Affect Humans?

Chemistry from clothing accumulates in our organs

Constant exposure to the toxic chemical cocktail contained in most clothing adds up, the toxins accumulate in our organs, and over the years serious illnesses can occur, such as cancer.

However, direct proof that the disease comes from one or more textile auxiliaries and has no other cause is virtually impossible.

Nevertheless, how can you tell that your clothes such as underwear, shirts, blouses, or pants are heavily contaminated with toxic chemicals?

  • The clothing smells strong of “chemistry”, i.e. pungently sharp – an indication of considerable contamination.
  • The note “wash separately” on the label with the washing symbols means: better consider the purchase. Then the laundry stains and this happens especially if risky chemicals were used to dye the fabric.
  • Beware of the indications wrinkle-resistant, dimensionally stable, and non-iron. Only by adding chemicals could the laundry be upgraded in such a way.
  • The same applies to weatherproof, water-repellent clothing. Their special membrane or coating was usually made using perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

How Can We Reduce our Fashion’s Environmental Impact?

Explore Second-Hand Stores

Thrifting is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the word “sustainable,” but you’d be surprised to know that the second-hand scene has really exploded in the last decade.

And we’re glad to see this trend in the right direction.

While in many countries, e.g. also in Germany where I live, thrift stores per se are rather reserved for the big metropolises, there are more and more options to browse for second-hand clothes online as well.

One of my favorite platforms is Vinted. This is a Lithuanian platform, similar to the second-hand platform Depop founded in Milan, where anyone can sell their old clothes.

So if I don’t have a thrift store nearby, which is quite different in the U.S., I like to search online for used treasures.

And that’s not only a great thing for the environment, but also for the wallet. Often, with a little rummaging, you can pick up gold treasures at attractive prices. Often even very limited, special unique pieces.

It’s all worth a try!

Rent Your closet

Renting an outfit, an expensive designer brand bag, or renting your next pair of sneakers is a common method used today, especially by many people when they are on a budget.

Renting here means you can wear an expensive outfit for a fraction of the cost – and let’s face it, when it comes to a big night out, we only put on most special dresses or jumpsuits once anyway – especially when the clothes are so short-lived anyway.

And while the sharing economy is thriving with car-sharing, co-working and co-living, sharing clothes isn’t that far-fetched.

Rent the Runway was the first company to launch a rentable closet, and now companies like Urban Outfitters and American Eagle have launched their own affordable subscription services. Urban’s new service, Nuuly, offers customers the ability to rent six pieces of clothing per month for $88.

Tulerie, for example, is a peer-to-peer company where users can borrow each other’s clothes, shoes, and accessories, with the app serving as a medium for borrowers and lenders.

Buy Clothes from Sustainable Brands

When you buy a new piece, you should find out how it was produced and what materials were used before you click the “buy” button.

And here’s where caution is needed: The popularity of the word “sustainable” has sparked a trend of “greenwashing,” with more and more brands claiming a product is from sustainable production when in fact it is not. So it’s up to you to do your own research.

For one thing, there’s the matter of the materials used. A garment made of synthetic fibers such as polyester always contains chemicals – even if the label says “recycled polyester”. That is nonsense. In addition, every time you wash these fibers, microplastics are produced, which contaminates the groundwater and thus the sewage treatment plants, oceans, and your skin.

Rather invest in natural fabrics like cotton, linen, silk, viscose, and wool.

And if you’re not entirely sure about the brand’s commitment to sustainability, email their customer service.

You can also check out the Fashion Transparency Index, which assesses the transparency of each brand and gives them a score based on their performance. The index also shows how much information a brand shares about their suppliers’ human rights and environmental plans.

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Disclosure about the post “Why is fast fashion bad for the environment?”: We only recommend products we would use ourselves and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Why is fast fashion bad for the environment?: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20201208STO93327/the-impact-of-textile-production-and-waste-on-the-environment-infographic


Founder & CEO of Streetstylis

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