The environmental cost
of fast fashion

The hidden cost of your clothing

The fashion industry is well known to be one of the world’s most polluting industries, contributing to water, air and soil pollution.  But did you know that the industry also has a HUGE problem with hidden plastic too? 

Here we unpick some of the problems with the clothing in our wardrobes, and the cost they have on our planet.

Fossil Fashion

Many of the clothes that we see in the shops are made from synthetic fibres, like polyester which is made from PET – the same stuff that makes up a plastic water bottle! It is estimated that by 2030, these synthetic fibres will make up 73% of all global fibre production. This plastic content in clothes means that the fashion industry is the 3rd largest user of plastic. Not only is there plastic in our clothes, but these synthetic fibres are made from fossil fuels, which contributes to CO2 emissions. In fact, CO2 emissions of synthetic clothing are 6 times higher than cotton clothing. As a result, the whole fashion industry accounts for a whopping 10% of global carbon emissions.


As concerns around ocean plastic are on the rise, with a lot of the focus on the impact of plastic bottles, coffee cups and straws it’s easy to forget the hidden culprits. Not only are our clothes made from fossil fuels, but also these synthetic fibres are ending up in our oceans as microplastics. Microfibers from clothing come in the form of microfibers, tiny bits of material made of plastic, that shed from garments in the wash. The IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) reports that between 15% and 31% of the estimated 9.5 m tonnes of plastic released into the oceans each year could be primary microplastics, almost two-thirds of which come from the washing of synthetic textiles. These microfibres then travel to the local wastewater treatment plant, where up to 40% of them enter rivers, lakes and oceans.

From waist to waste

The amount of clothing consumed in the UK in 2016 was 1,130,000 tonnes – which is a rise of 100,000 tonnes since 2010. This means that at this rate, by the end of 2020 the UK will consume 1,530,000 tonnes of clothing in one year.

The average lifecycle of a garment is just 3.3 years, but the average polyester product is likely to last 200 years in landfill, and around 350,000 tonnes of clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year – and remember most of these are made from plastic! Although it is sometimes suggested that recycling old clothes can be a solution, currently less than 1% of clothes are recycled into new clothes.

On top of this, the percentage of recycled polyester content in clothes is reducing, in fact, half of the fast fashion clothes from top online retailers are made from NEW plastic. And when it is included, most of the recycled polyester in clothing actually comes from plastic bottles, rather than old clothes. This means recycling clothing is not providing the solution we need for fast fashion.

Fast fashion Vs slow fashion

Fast fashion is a term coined by Zara – relating to their supply chains and new tech, made to make logistics faster from design to delivery. Fast fashion means there are more clothes on offer, and new ranges coming in more regularly, encouraging us to buy more. Often these clothes are low quality and poorly made, in poor conditions and by underpaid workers. Fast fashion exploits both people and the planet.

Whereas slow fashion is the opposite. It’s a reaction to rethinking the relationship we have with our clothes. It’s a combination of considered purchasing: only buying things that have a positive impact on the planet, and therefore only buying the things we need. It’s a reform of the whole lifecycle of our clothes. It also means owning clothes for longer, repurposing old items, remaking and mending, and creating a circular fashion economy.

Plastic-free fashion

Don’t worry, you don’t need to go naked to reduce your wardrobes plastic footprint – you can opt for plastic-free fashion instead and make the right choices for the planet – and your wardrobe!

Share This