Nations are becoming increasingly conscious about regulating carbon emissions from the fashion industry.
Simply put, overproduction of fashion items, use of synthetic fibres and agriculture pollution of fashion crops are a few factors that contribute to waste pollution.
Last year, Bill Gates wrote in his blog GatesNotes that, by 2060, climate change could be just as deadly as the pandemic, and by 2100, it could be five times as deadly. “In the next decade or two, the economic damage caused by climate change will likely be as bad as having a Covid-sized pandemic every 10 years,” he said.
Not just Gates, but many other climate advocates, too, have stressed that the current global crisis can inform the response to the next one. The fact remains that, besides automobile and energy, fashion is one of the major polluting industries in the world that needs major attention, as it contributes to divergent forms of environmental pollution, including water, air and soil.
Simply put, overproduction of fashion items, use of synthetic fibres and agriculture pollution of fashion crops are a few factors that contribute to waste pollution. Take, for instance, polyester, one of the most popular fibres used in fashion, which is non-biodegradable. In fact, fast fashion, quick and affordable trendy wear, is a massive producer of waste that combines cheap labour and clothes.
If the fashion sector continues on its current trajectory, that share of the carbon budget could jump to 26% by 2050, according to a 2017 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The foundation also reports that more than $500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing under-utilisation and lack of recycling.
World leaders have now slowly begun to realise the catastrophic future of climate change, especially when it comes to regulating the industry. US President Joe Biden announced America’s return to the international Paris Agreement to fight climate change with a safe global temperature, increased climate resilience and financial flows aligned with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and a climate-resilient development.
French legislator Brune Poirson, who was officially one of the three secretaries of state to the minister for ecological and inclusive transition, was unofficially in charge of fashion and has been known to ban brands from destroying an estimated $700 million worth of unsold goods annually, a common practice in the French fashion industry.
The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles & Apparel (HKRITA) has a garment-to-garment recycle system (G2G) for old clothes broken down into fibres and yarns to make raw material for knitted new clothes. This fibre-to-fibre recycling method is cost-effective and there’s no secondary pollution, ensuring that the life of the recycled material is prolonged in a sustainable way.
If responsible fashion is the call of the hour, nations might like to add an additional portfolio of ministry of fashion for better incentivised, locally-produced and technologically-advanced systems to tackle pollution. The ministry may set guidelines, scrutinise products, examine markets and assess demand and supply.
Brands are also now becoming conscious of how damaging fast fashion is for the environment and taking small steps in consciously building sustainable nations. The negative impacts that are rising inexorably point out how fashion creates waste across industries (logistics, animal farming, agriculture) and is not as disposable as one is made to believe.
Around 1 kg of cotton production, cultivated as part of the agricultural industry in India, uses more than 10,000 litres of fresh water. Cotton production uses 24% of the insecticides and 11% of the pesticides produced globally. “Every time we consume fresh conventional cotton, we use large quantities of water, insecticides and pesticides, which eventually seep into groundwater and waterways. About 70 million trees are cut every year to produce plant-based fibre. Fashion uses 342 million oil barrels to make plastic-based fabrics like polyester and nylon; 23% of all chemicals produced worldwide are used for the textile industry. Recycling or upcycling can instead use natural resources to create fresh material. Working locally reduces the carbon footprint of products that travel back and forth between production, packaging, warehousing, quality checking before they reach the store shelf or the consumer,” says Kriti Tula, co-founder of Doodlage, a Delhi-based sustainable fashion brand that uses upcycle factory waste to make limited-edition collections and recycled post-consumer waste and scraps to make new fabrics and garments.
Additionally, India has made significant strides in sustainable fashion as PM Narendra Modi’s ‘vocal for local’ empowers MSMEs. Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) gives a push to local manufacturing via the Aatmanirbhar Bharat programme. There are other sustainable Indian brands like Rewanta as well that support artisans by creating a positive demand cycle for khadi. Antaran, a direct implementation programme of Tata Trusts, aims to help artisans deal with markets directly.