The fashion industry is considered by the UN Conference on Trade and Development UNCTAD, to be the second most polluting industry in the world”. In fact, according to UNCTAD, some 93 billion cubic metres of water – enough to meet the needs of five million people – is used by the fashion industry annually, and around half a million tons of micro-fibre, which is the equivalent of 3 million barrels of oil, is now being dumped into the ocean every year.
For its part, one of the top world bodies in charge of environmental issues UN Environment provides more conservative figures. It says that considering cotton production, manufacture, transport and washing, it takes 3,781 litres of water to make one pair of jeans. (That is equivalent to the amount of water the average person drinks over a period of 3 1/2 years.) Furthermore, “the process equates to around 33.4 kilograms of carbon equivalent emitted, like driving 111 kilometres or watching 246 hours of TV on a big screen”.
Even just washing our clothes releases plastic microfibres and other pollutants into the environment, contaminating our oceans and drinking water, UN Environment warns and adds that around 20% of global industrial water pollution is from dyeing and textile treatment.
Some studies estimate that the average garment is worn ten times before being discarded. “Of the total fibre input used for clothing, 87 per cent is incinerated or sent to landfill. Overall, one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or incinerated every second”.
The issue is so alarming that it has pushed 10 different UN organisations to join forces through an Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, which was launched on March 2019 in Nairobi..