Producing textiles uses an extremely large amount of energy and water resources. This results in environmental pollution not only during production, but even afterwards when we continue to use these resources by washing our clothes in toxic washing powder and throwing old clothes away. The chemicals used during the growing, manufacturing and care of textiles are responsible for many health problems among people and for damage to Mother Earth as well.
It is our responsibility as human beings to replace, reduce or eliminate anything that might remotely affect the environment in a negative way. We are the only ones able to create this change and although the transition might cause social and economic unrest, it will ensure sustainability in the long run for every living thing on Earth.
‘Fast fashion’ leaves a deep and harsh pollution footprint, which is very hard to recover from. Low prices have lead to disposable clothing, but the impact that the disposal has on the environment is predominantly negative. Textile manufacturing facilities have become hazardous waste generators.
The manufacturing of polyester contributes to air pollution by releasing gas, causing respiratory disease. The chemicals in the wastewater produced during production contribute to water pollution and have possible carcinogenic properties. Synthetic fibres may be ‘economic’ to use for anybody interested in making a lot of money very quickly, but they are destroying the planet. With its high levels of emission and energy consumption, this non-renewable resource essentially becomes quite uneconomic to use.
Many people argue that the production of textiles made from natural fibres is better for the environment, but this is not always the case. Non-organic cotton requires copious amounts of fertilisers and pesticides during the growth stage and uses defoliants during manufacture with the emission of toxic fumes and dust during ginning (a process during manufacture where seeds and other impurities are separated from the cotton fibres). Cotton also requires an extremely large amount of water to grow, which contributes to drought.
Organic cotton might be free from pesticides and fertilisers, but it still requires large amounts of water to grow and keep the clothing prices low. It is usually exported to China to make use of the low labour costs, but at what cost? Poor working conditions and exploitation still govern the industry.
Work quality issues impact the textile industry on a large scale. Unreasonable work hours, fatigue, mistreatment of women, child labour, forced labour, harassment and abuse are the unpleasant conditions workers in the textile industry experience. Low wages are not enough to sustain even one person, let alone their families. These workers are expected to be highly skilled and trained, never receiving any type of valid or significant reward for their efforts and talents. Are we really getting anywhere by overlooking the exploitation of human beings just for the sake of having successful businesses?
THE REAL SOLUTION
Education regarding the purchasing, use and disposal of clothing is of crucial importance. We need to understand that following trends and considering clothing to be disposable is not the mindset that would put the human race on the path of being self-sustainable. Somebody else’s opinion of what is trendy is overruling the fact that the very thing that is keeping us alive is being destroyed. We are essentially investing in our deaths and the death of generations to come when we buy into fashion trends and fads.
The main solution is finding alternatives for existing raw materials, like hemp and organic cotton. Our resources for textiles should be renewable considering all aspects of the product life cycle. By using the least amount of energy possible and eliminating toxic substances and waste, we will create life with each product that we sell instead of death. Hemp meets all of these requirements.
Sustainable resource management and raising awareness is the only way forward. It is crucial to the survival of the textile industry. This can only be accomplished through an increase in demand for products that protect us in all ways. This increase in demand will be a result of understanding the importance of sustainability in the textile industry. Quality of life will improve with each garment sold, contributing to a well-functioning society.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Care for our clothing differently
The way that we look after our clothes needs to change. Washing and drying clothing at high temperatures results in large amounts of energy consumption. Try nat- ural alternatives to washing powders and fabric softeners and set up your washing machine’s outlet pipe to water your garden.
Support local designers
By supporting local designers, we can decrease the demand for the ‘made in China’ products, putting a stop to the brutality of the working conditions and saving our local textile industry, which cannot compete with the low prices of products from overseas.
Are the companies that you buy from transparent about where their clothing is being manufactured? Are your purchasing decisions contributing to the environment in a positive way? Who and what are you supporting when you buy from company A, B and C?
Investing in hemp and organic cotton
Organic cotton’s ecological footprint is much lower than its counterpart. Hemp has emerged as the ultimate solution by having the lowest ecological footprint.
- It requires much less water than cotton to grow.
- It takes about 9 000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of cotton, whereas hemp only requires around 2 000 litres per kilogram.
- Cotton also requires twice as much land to equal the productivity of hemp.
- Hemp is 700% stronger than cotton, making it durable and economic to use.
- It also requires no herbicides or pesticides.
Hemp is extremely comfortable to wear and is well suited to the South African climate in all its seasons.
We can certainly create change by doing more research and asking more questions. As we find the answers, we can offer more solutions for an industry that is seriously lacking in promoting environmental sustainability. It is time that we take the first step towards change and stand up for what is truly beneficial for our planet. Buying into consumerism is empty and short-lived. Sustainability is forever.
Editor’s note: Other articles that may interest you are: Dry Cleaning – Risks & Safer Alternatives, Making your Home a Green Home and Uncovering the Dirt on Cleaning Products