Facing the hard facts | Article by Common Objective

6 Tonne of textile is dumped every 10 minutes in Australia –
36,000kg per hour 864,000kg per day
6,048,000kg per week 25,920,000kg per month
311,040,000kg per year

With more than 100 billion items of clothing and 14 billion pairs of shoes sold in 2016, all requiring often long and complex production processes and heavy use of energy, there’s no doubt that fashion is a dirty business. The industry is also set to double the use of oil-based synthetic fibres such as polyester by 2030, but is not systematically implementing technological solutions for recycling or tackling the micro-plastics that are shed by them. All considered, the fashion sector could be heading towards a toxic nightmare.

Fashion pollutes throughout the supply chain

Toxic chemicals from pesticides and insecticides used in cotton production at farm level, as well as the 8,000-plus different chemicals supporting the dyeing, manufacture and finishing processes, all release huge quantities of effluents into fresh and oceanic waterways.

For example, in June 2017, research by the Changing Markets Foundation at 10 factories producing viscose in India, Indonesia and China uncovered clear evidence of dumping of untreated waste water that was polluting local rivers and lakes, killing fish and shrimps and stunting crop growth.

Focus has also fallen upon the microfibres from synthetic fabrics that are entering the ecosystem and polluting waterways. Micro-plastics are accumulating rapidly in marine habitats around the world, and research is showing that a major source of these comes from waste water contaminated by plastic fibres from washing clothes made of synthetic fabrics such as polyester, acrylic, polypropylene. Micro-plastics are particularly dangerous with other pollutants including pesticides and manufacturing chemicals adhering to them. As well as causing harm to marine life, these micro-plastics can then work their way back into the food chain via fish and seafood.

The Australia Circular Fashion Conference 2018

Some Key Facts

Textile colouring and treatment releases 72 toxic chemicals into water supplies, 30 of which remain there permanently. The World Bank estimates that 20 per cent of water pollution comes from textile dyeing and treatment.

The release of microfibre plastics into sewage and through that, into land-based ecosystems, is equivalent in volume to around 4 million to 7 million plastic bags per day.

Textile and footwear processing facilities may also be generating airborne emissions from their manufacturing processes. The main sources of air pollution are likely to be boilers, use of thermo packs and diesel generators, which release gaseous pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, suspended particulate matter (SPM) and nitrogen oxide. 

Companies can reduce pollution in their supply chain by:

  • Considering environmental impacts at the design stage of production, including choices between synthetic and natural fibres;
  • Working with industry partners to improve the effectiveness of waste treatment processes, and alternative dyeing and finishing processes with less harmful chemicals;
  • Using tools such as Higg Facility Environmental Module to assess environmental impacts of production;
  • Applying the NRDC/Clean by Design’s 10 Best Practices for Textile Mills to Save Money and Reduce Pollution;
  • Encouraging customers to reduce their own impacts through careful washing and purchasing quality garments that shed fewer fibres.

The Australia Circular Fashion Conference 2018