Manufacturing any product has an impact on:
- the environment
- the people who make it
- the buyer (you and your loved ones)
For years, the fashion and textiles industries have irresponsibly manufactured products. The consequences of which are enormous and devastating. Here is just a quick look at the impact that non-eco textile production has on the environment, the people who make it, and you
… these are the very things that Offset Warehouse products seek to combat.
1. The Environmental Impact of Textile Production
· Water Pollution
The textile industry consumes huge amounts of water during its various processing operations: drawdown of natural water bodies for irrigation (inputs); contamination of freshwater from fertiliser, pesticides and other chemicals (outputs), and water management.Almost all dyes, speciality chemicals and finishing chemicals are applied to fabrics in water baths. In addition, most fabric preparation steps, including desizing, scouring, bleaching and mercerising, use aqueous systems. Add to this the water consumed in ion exchange, used in boilers for cooling, steam drying and cleaning, and you have a lot of water. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), a production unit producing 20,000lb of fabric a day consumes 36,000 litres of water in the same time period. If we're to drink 8 litres a day, it would take us 4,500 days to drink that much.
In addition, it’s estimated that 17-20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and treatment, and the USEPA have also identified 72 toxic chemicals in our water that are there solely because of textile dyeing. Thirty of those chemicals cannot be removed.
“The use of man-made chemicals is increasing, and at the same time we have warning signals that a variety of wildlife and human health problems are becoming more prevalent… It is reckless to suggest there is no link between the two, and give chemicals the benefit of the doubt."
- Dr Richard Dixon, Head of the World Wildlife Federation (WWF)
· Biodiversity & Soil Pollution
Biodiversity is a broad term used to describe the variation of life forms existing within an ecosystem. Ecosystems are sensitive to extreme changes in air, soil or water. For example, the Aral Sea in Central Asia, previously the world’s fourth-largest body of inland water, has been virtually destroyed due to Soviet cotton production practices. Not only has the water level reduced by 90%, but what is left is too salty for even aquatic animals to survive, so the fishing industry has collapsed. Furthermore, the summers are now shorter and dryer and the winters longer and colder, plus chemical pollution has caused serious illness, and infant mortality is worse than in any other developing country in the world. Most worrying is the discovery that local people are suffering genetic damage. Fortunately, due to public demand, damming upstream and an increase in rain-fed irrigation, the Aral Sea is returning.
Yet, this is only one area of the planet. In so many places throughout the world, similar practices have caused degradation and contamination of the soil, leading to deforestation, soil erosion and water contamination, which in turn drastically affects the flora and fauna.
Non-organic (conventional) cotton uses more pesticides than any other single crop.
Five of the top nine pesticides used on cotton in the USA – including cyanide, dicofol, naled, propargite and trifluralin – are known to be cancer-causing chemicals. All nine are classified by the USEPA as Category l and ll – the most dangerous chemicals of all. Depending on the practices involved, it can take up to a pound of such chemicals to grow the cotton for just one pair of trousers and a shirt. These toxins remain in the fibres and are absorbed through your skin, via the lymphatic system, into your bloodstream.
· Energy Use
The lifecycle of a fabric consumes a significant amount of energy, particularly in the form of fossil fuels, and particularly when manufacturing synthetic fabrics. In fact, the textile industry is one of the major consumers of water and fuel (the energy required for electric power, steam and transportation). The per-capita consumption of textiles is about 20kg per year - increasing day by day - and with that rise comes an increased need for energy, and a bigger carbon footprint in order to manufacture the fabrics. Domestic washing and drying of materials is also a big factor in the overall impact of a fabric.
2. The Social Impact of Textile Production
· Sub-Standard Working Conditions
Poor conditions for those working in the clothing production industries in developing countries still exist. Particular issues include not being paid a living wage, long working hours, health and safety risks and general lack of knowledge of workers’ rights. In some cases, textile and product manufacture still involves child labour.
· Exposure to Toxic Chemicals
The health of the wider community in developing countries can often be affected by exposure to the hazardous chemicals, and nuisance odours produced by clothing production plants. Some of these chemicals are carcinogenic.
· Increased Poverty
On the surface, the movement of clothing production to developing countries appears to provide work for many people, thereby benefitting a local economy. However, due to under-developed or non-existent workers’ rights, and the lack of opportunity for advancement, it often leads to an increase in poverty in the affected areas.
Production of raw materials and manufacturing of textiles often leads to the loss of land and resources for existing communities, resulting in a potential loss of cultural assets and a need to resettle somewhere new and alien.
· Animal Welfare
There are very few animal rights in fashion and interiors. In today’s society, where appearance matters first and foremost to many people, and fur, leather, wool and silk are used in excess, textile manufacturers and mass producers are not regulated, and many animals suffer unnecessary abuse and deprivation.
3. Protecting you and your loved ones
Greenpeace recently tested a number of clothing items from high street stores including Zara and Levis, and found them filled with harmful, carcinogenic toxins - scary stuff! Just like our food, if our clothing, bedding and towels are made from non-organic fibres, any harmful chemicals which have been retained from both the farming and the manufacturing processes, along with inhalation, ingestion and injection, is absorbed into our skin - just think about how a nicotine patch works – what goes onto our skin goes into our body.
Another benefit of organic fabric – particularly for children – is that organic fabrics are hypoallergenic and dust-mite resistant. This means it’s the best choice of material for those who suffer from asthma or allergies, or those who have sensitive skin which is prone to irritation. These fibres also breathe better as they're not heavy or altered from chemicals, which in turn helps to absorb and remove heat and moisture, keeping the body cool, dry and healthy.
|"My son has very sensitive skin, and my doctor recommended that I try him out with organic fabrics. Now, whenever he wears clothes made from organic fabrics his skin is a lot less irritated, which means we need to use a lot less cream on it. Thank you!” - Heidi, mum of two, July 2012
Are you a fashion or creative business?
If you're a creative or fashion business, or even a home maker, and you're looking to deepen your understanding about why you should use ethical and sustainable textiles, we have some Masterclasses over on our sister business The Sustainable Fashion Collective that you'll want to dive into.
You'll also find resources on our blog to excite and inspire.