We see it on the news every day – humankind’s impact on the environment is a pressing problem facing our planet, leaving current and future generations hanging in the balance. As the demands for clean water and other resources rise globally, we are continually confronted with price increases, water shortages, full landfills, air pollution, global warming, increased electricity usage, and many other consequences. An example of this comes from a report published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration which states that 31% of American households found it challenging to meet their energy needs in 2015.
Unfortunately, this is not exactly new information. We’ve all heard numerous examples of how the economy is negatively impacted when people and corporations consume resources more quickly than they can be replenished. But, the purpose of this article is not simply to restate information we all already know about the deteriorating state of our environment. Rather, it is to cover a specific source that is one of the largest contributors to global pollution – and that source, might just surprise you.
The Harmful Effect of Mass-Produced Retail Clothing
No matter what we may think the planet’s biggest problems are, fashion is not often the first issue or solution that immediately comes to mind. But, did you know that 30% of retail clothing made around the world is never sold? Unfortunately, many of these items end up in landfills or are burned, which is one of the reasons why clothing is the second-largest global pollutant, right behind oil.
Use Natural and Synthetic Materials Responsibly
Clothing items can be manufactured out of a large array of individual and blended materials. Regardless of whether natural materials like cotton and hemp are used, or synthetic materials such as polyester and nylon, each material presents its own challenges. For example, cotton is a natural, renewable, and biodegradable resource. However, some fertilizers used to promote the growth of cotton are detrimental to the environment. Furthermore, according to OrganicCotton.org, although 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land is used to grow cotton, it consumes 16% of all pesticides and 6.8% of all herbicides used worldwide. These fertilizers and pesticide have occasionally leeched into water supplies, leading to oxygen-free, dead zones in some bodies of water, in addition to other issues.
Synthetic materials are not perfect either. Polyester, for example, is derived from petroleum which takes thousands of years to form naturally. This means it is not considered to be a renewable resource because it does not replenish quickly enough. Polyester is also non-biodegradable, leading to concerns as to what to do with garments made from synthetic materials once they have achieved the end of their life cycles.
Both materials discussed – cotton and polyester – as well as other natural and synthetic materials, are useful for different applications within the apparel and activewear markets. For instance, depending on how it is woven, cotton is often used for its light and airy feel and ability to allow skin to breathe. Polyester, on the other hand, is one of the best materials to wick sweat away from the body and is also wrinkle-resistant.
All of these materials have viable uses. But, what can we do to reduce the negative impact on the environment, from using them? Like many industries, one of the biggest answers lies in how much is produced versus the amount used. Too much of any manufactured item, no matter how natural or widely available it is, becomes waste and creates a negative impact on the environment.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The EPA’s recommendation to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ applies to the apparel industry just as much as any other. The steps to reduce, reuse, and recycle are listed in order from greatest to least, based on how extensively each action can positively affect the planet.Reduce
The step to reduce is listed first because it directly impacts every other option. The most obvious way to reduce waste is to avoid generating anything that can turn into waste in the first place. The best efficiency comes from reducing the amount of goods produced to the point where production equals exactly the amount that needs to be used, with no excess. No other step has as much impact as reducing volumes produced. This is the reason why mass-production of apparel has such a negative effect on the environment.Reuse
Just because an individual has obtained all of the use they want to get out of an item, doesn’t mean it can’t be repurposed or used by somebody else. Passing clothing on to relatives, selling items through consignment shops, contributing to thrift stores, and even repurposing old clothing as rags for cleaning, are all examples of reuse. These options extend the product life cycle, reducing the need to draw from new resources to produce additional goods.Recycle
It might be surprising, but recycling comes at the end of the list. The reason for this is that recycling waste consumes a large amount of energy. Furthermore, recycled products are sometimes of lower quality than the originals. It is best to try to reduce and reuse before proceeding to recycle. This is not to say people should stop recycling! Rather, it is better to prioritize reducing and reusing over recycling. Once a product has met the end of its life cycle, if it is recyclable, it is always preferable to recycle instead of having it thrown into a landfill.
Reduce with PARACHRON
PARACHRON is an environmentally conscious fashion brand that aims to produce attractive, comfortable, clothing and fashion accessories for the athleisure and activewear communities. At PARACHRON, we believe that modern-day consumerism and mass production, with total disregard for environmental impact, is tipping the natural balance of our blue planet. For this reason, we have adopted a business model focused on the “reduce” in “reduce, reuse, recycle”.
By limiting the sheer volume of manufactured apparel items to the bare minimum, we impact every stage of the product life cycle and naturally decrease the need to reuse and recycle afterward – although, we still recommend taking those steps where possible. Our environmentally friendly production model generates significantly less waste than traditional mass-production methods, allowing us to put everything that’s produced to good use.
PARACHRON has accomplished this by adopting an ‘on-demand’ manufacturing process which virtually eliminates overproduction. Our performance activewear is printed, precision-cut, and hand-sewn with industrial sewing machines, for each personalized order, and then shipped directly to our customer’s door. As a result, our customer receives a brand new, high-quality item that was specifically made just for them, with a reduced carbon footprint. Imagine how much less waste there would be in the world if everything was manufactured and sold in this way.
One of the greatest issues with apparel is also one of its greatest strengths – everybody needs and wears clothing and everyone, directly or indirectly, contributes to the way it is manufactured, sold, and used. Since clothing is an everyday commodity, it creates a tremendously accessible avenue for ordinary individuals to affect change.
Sustainable, ethical, and eco-friendly business practices can help address some of Earth’s biggest pollution issues. Because manufacturers create retail clothing items based on demand generated by consumers, consumers do well to remember that they are voting with their dollars and hold a degree of power to effect change. Every time we purchase activewear, athleisure wear, loungewear, or any other ‘wear’, we vote for that brand. Let’s make sure, when we do, we vote for a company that is just as concerned with the environment as the rest of their business.