Fast Fashion: What is it and how is it polluting our environment?

When someone asks us what the main causes of pollution today are, we immediately think of plastic disposal, transportation, the burning of fossil fuels, and emissions from factories and industries, but we don’t really think about our clothes!

Did you know that the fashion industry is considered to be among the top 5 most polluting industries in the world today? Right from the minute the fabric for our clothes is sourced until the clothes are finally done with and disposed of, this $3 trillion global industry is harming our environment. 

What is Fast Fashion? The term ‘fast fashion’ means inexpensive clothing produced at a very fast pace and in large quantities to meet the latest trends in the market. These are the issues with ‘fast fashion’. 

  1. When clothing is priced low, it can mean that cheaper fabrics are being used to make it and that clothes will not last very long. 
  2. Earlier there were only two trends (new styles) in the year – Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. Today, it is estimated that the industry has 52 ‘micro seasons’ each year. It means that fashion changes so fast that you need to keep buying new clothes all the time!

We get stuck in a cycle of buying clothes, getting rid of them and again buying new clothes. According to an organisation called re/make, nearly 80% of our discarded clothes end up in landfills or are burnt and only 20% get recycled – that is a huge pile of clothes going to waste!

How does the fashion industry harm the environment? If you are wondering how your clothes can have such an adverse effect on the environment, here are some facts to help you understand.


  1. The UN Climate Change website states that the fashion industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. It is the second most polluting industry in the world, after the Oil industry! The industry accounts for 20% of global waste water. Furthermore, 85% of textiles are disposed of instead of being recycled. 
  2. To produce fabric, a lot of water is used for washing, dyeing, bleaching and cleaning the finished product. The waste water is contaminated with toxic chemicals and dye colours and this goes back into the sea affecting marine life. 
  1. Synthetic fabrics are non – biodegradable. When we wash them in our washing machines, tiny pieces of microplastic fibres get washed into the ocean and our fish end up eating these plastic pieces. 
  2. Clothes when disposed of take a long while to decompose depending on the material. For example, ‘Fashion Revolution’ says that a denim jacket takes 10 to 12 months whereas Lycra clothes take 20 to 200 years to decompose. 
  3. Some fabrics are made using wood pulp and nearly 70 million trees are cut every year to make them.  

The facts may seem alarming but there is always a solution to the problem. In this case, it is up to us to be conscious consumers of fashion. 

What can we do to help? Some fashion designers and companies are doing a lot to make sure that the industry becomes more eco friendly. They are using natural, sustainable fibres, or engineering fabric from waste like apple pulp and citrus waste!

Here are a few easy things we can do to be more conscious consumers.

  1. Buy clothes when you really need them, do not buy something just because it is the ‘fashion trend’ at the moment.
  2. Take good care of your clothes so that they last longer. That way you will end up buying less too.
  3. Share your clothes with your friends – that way you can have new outfits to wear without having to buy.
  4. Dispose of your clothes responsibly by giving them to someone who could use them.
  5. Wearing preloved clothes is not a bad thing, it shows that you love the person whose it was and the planet!

There are so many great sources of information we used for this story. Check them out to learn more!

Written by: Preetika Soni. Preetika is a full – time toddler mommy. In the time that is left, she enjoys writing, photography and crochet. She has worked with NDTV, Mumbai and has taught at SCMSophia.