How does fashion impact our oceans?

Any large industry right now has the power to harm or help our environment. It all depends on making the right choices and the fashion industry, at least the majority of successful fashion brands, have been making environmentally harmful choices for a long while.

Because of it, fashion plays a pretty significant role in impacting the health of our natural environments so, today, we’ll be looking at how it specifically affects our oceans.

How does fashion harm our oceans

There are a variety of ways fashion has made its mark on the health of our oceans. From textile to water waste, these different forms of pollution have taken a very real toll on marine ecosystems that have only worsened with the popularity of fast fashion brands who favour production methods that are fast, cheap, and unsustainable.

This is how we know fashion currently affects our oceans:

1.An estimated 14 million tonnes of microplastics have accumulated on the world’s ocean floor.

Microplastics, defined as plastic particles below 5mm in length, are consumed by marine organisms and thus make their way into the food chain - this can be poisonous to both these organisms and humans. Moreover, Plastic takes centuries to fully degrade and so, these particles will remain in natural environments polluting them for many years to come while also potentially leaching harmful toxins.

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Textiles are the largest source of primary microplastics accounting for 34.8% of global microplastic pollution. Microfibres (a type of microplastic) are released synthetic clothing is washed – synthetic meaning fabrics like polyester and acrylic that are commonly used in fast fashion. This pollution enters our wastewater that often ends up in natural water bodies.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

2.The fashion industry produces 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions every year.

Carbon dioxide is naturally absorbed by our oceans, a cycle that exists to aid in reducing its presence in our atmosphere but has now created two other issues: the rising temperature of our oceans and their increasing acidity. The former will directly alter climate patterns while the latter poses a considerable threat on coral reef structures and could mean the deterioration of many highly populated marine habitats - as stated by the NOAA, “as ocean acidification increases, available carbonate ions (CO32-) bond with excess hydrogen, resulting in fewer carbonate ions available for calcifying organisms to build and maintain their shells, skeletons, and other calcium carbonate structures. If the pH gets too low, shells and skeletons can even begin to dissolve.”

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As mentioned, a significant percentage of global emissions come from the fashion industry. This is mostly due to the need for many fashion brands (mainly fast fashion) to produce rapidly and constantly to keep up with popular trends and meet consumer demands. Therefore, heavy machinery is used in most, if not, all stages of production from fibre processing to final fabric creation; and often these garments are created in-excess i.e. lots of production occurs in a short space of time which then creates mass carbon emissions.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

3.The fashion industry contributes to 20% of global wastewater dumped into our natural water bodies every year.

About 80% of wastewater created all over the world is released into the environment without being regulated. This means an increase of untreated sewage, agricultural runoff and industrial discharge within our natural bodies of water that will directly affect marine habitats, polluting them and harming sea creatures. Moreover, there’s also increased risk to human populations who drink from these water sources, As outlined by a UN Water article, “wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused, contributing to a situation where around 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. Far from being something to discard or ignore, wastewater will play a major role in meeting the growing water demand in rapidly expanding cities, enhancing energy production and industrial development, and supporting sustainable agriculture.”

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Stated in a Forbes article, “The fashion & textiles industry is a major polluter of water at all stages of the value chain, from the agricultural runoff from cotton fields causing algal blooms that choke rivers, to the dying process releasing a cocktail of toxic chemicals and the washing of clothes releasing microplastics.” And so, it’s evident that it’s not as simple as only considering the water that is discarded in the fabric dyeing process, there are multiple avenues that lead to our oceans experiencing mass negative impact due to the fashion industry’s operations and established systems.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

How can we do better

There are always steps we can take to help better our oceans’ health. Through your fashion choices as well as using your voice to demand better from the industry, we can get closer to a planet that is greener (or bluer, should we say) and fosters healthy environments for us all to live better.

Here are some ways you can ensure you’re making better fashion choices:

  • Invest in natural fibres and fabrics, avoid synthetic variations as much as possible! Microplastics are shed by synthetic fabrics and so the less we buy and diminish the demand for them, we’ll get closer to only using resources that cycle back into our ecosystems naturally without leaving harmful impacts.
  • Invest in craft that’s done by-hand. The less machinery used in the industry process the better. It means lower greenhouse gas emissions are created, gasses that contribute to global warming.
  • Do your research and choose brands that are transparent in their production. Where your money goes matters so, before you buy, take a look at the brand’s mission, the kind of information they make public, who they craft with and so on. This helps create more demand for sustainably made products and tells the industry you would rather invest in more conscious brands.
  • Treat the clothing you already have with more care. This helps increase the longevity of your pieces meaning you may not even need to buy clothing as often. Production in the industry would decrease to meet this shift and, hopefully, mean an end to excess waste.

As always, we hope this gives you some insight into how our choices affect our planet, there’s always ways we can do better to create a greener world, we just need to come together to help make it a reality!