Land Pollution and Water Use
Pesticides in Cotton Fields
Cotton is only grown on 2.5 percent of the world’s agricultural land but uses 16 percent of insecticides globally and 6.8 percent of herbicides.
Water Needed to Grow Crops
In addition, cotton requires high amounts of water to farm. Incredibly, it takes 2,700 liters of water to create one cotton shirt. That’s enough water to sustain one person for two and a half years. Cotton uses an inordinate amount of resources and requires high amounts of sickness-causing chemicals to create.
Water Used During the Manufacturing Process
The process of dying fabric and preparing it to create clothing has an astonishing impact on local water supplies. One-fifth of the water pollution created by industry is produced by textile mills, which also use tens of thousands of chemicals to make their products.
Health of Farmers, Workers and Local Communities
While this may be a shock to many consumers who see cotton as a “natural” and therefore “earth-friendly” crop, non-organic cotton actually contributes to declining health not only for the plants and soil, but the human beings who farm it.
In the less economically developed regions where much cotton is harvested, farmers often get sick because of lack of knowledge and technology to use pesticides properly.
Chemicals in Clothing Manufacturing Plants
Those T-shirts that are sold cheaply on department store shelves have a long history and contain harmful chemicals in their fabric. People who are at greatest risk for health problems due to manufacturing of non-organic clothing are those who cut, trim, sew and assemble the cloth treated with toxic substances.
In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that workers in U.S. clothing plants were exposed to formaldehyde. The more than 11,000 workers studied were found to have a risk of developing myeloid leukemia one-and-a-half times the rate of the wider population. This means that over time, people simply doing their jobs had a higher risk of dying because of the contents of cheap clothing.
Waste Release in Manufacturing Cities
Most fashion and textiles are manufactured and produced in emerging economies such as India and China. The companies that benefit from selling these goods do so at the expense of those local communities who suffer immense environmental damage at the site of production.
This statistic comes with some good news attached. According to Forbes, India and China are poised to become the greatest consumers of sustainable goods by 2030. The magazine revealed last year that 65 percent of shoppers in emerging markets were looking for sustainable clothing, a statistic double that of their counterparts in the developed world.
This offers some hope for countries with depleting supplies of clean water. Fashion, an industry already responsible for high water usage, through growing of cotton crops, also pollutes water through waste. Dyeing of textiles is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, outpaced only by agriculture.