Once on the territory of Kazakhstan there was an inland sea. Now it’s just a dry desert. The disappearance of the Aral Sea is one of the biggest environmental disasters associated with the clothing industry. What was once home to thousands of fish and wildlife is now a vast desert inhabited by a small number of bushes and camels.
The reason for the disappearance of an entire sea is simple: the currents of rivers that once flowed into the sea were redirected – mainly to provide water to the cotton fields. And this has affected everything from weather conditions (summers and winters have become more severe) to the health of the local population.
A body of water the size of Ireland has disappeared in just 40 years. But outside of Kazakhstan, many do not even know about it! You cannot understand the complexity of the situation without being there, without feeling and seeing the catastrophe with your own eyes.
Did you know that cotton can do this? And this is not all the damage that the textile industry can cause to the environment!
1. The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters on the planet.
There is strong evidence that clothing production is one of the top five polluters in the world. This industry is unsustainable – people make over 100 billion new garments from new fibers every year and the planet can’t handle it.
Often compared to other industries such as coal, oil, or meat production, people consider the fashion industry to be the least harmful. But in fact, in terms of environmental impact, the fashion industry is not far behind the mining of coal and oil. For example, in the UK, 300 tons of clothes are thrown into landfill every year. In addition, microfibers washed out of clothing have become a significant cause of plastic pollution in rivers and oceans.
2. Cotton is a very unstable material.
Cotton is usually presented to us as a pure and natural material, but in fact it is one of the most unsustainable crops on the planet due to its dependence on water and chemicals.
The disappearance of the Aral Sea is one of the clearest examples. Even though part of the sea area was saved from the cotton industry, the long-term negative consequences of what happened are simply enormous: job losses, deteriorating public health and extreme weather conditions.
Just think: it takes the amount of water to make one bag of clothes that one person could drink for 80 years!
3. Devastating effects of river pollution.
One of the world’s most polluted rivers, the Citarum River in Indonesia, is now so full of chemicals that birds and rats are constantly dying in its waters. Hundreds of local garment factories pour chemicals from their factories into a river where children swim and whose waters are still used to irrigate crops.
The oxygen level in the river was depleted due to chemicals that killed all the fauna in it. When a local scientist tested a sample of the water, he found that it contained mercury, cadmium, lead and arsenic.
Long-term exposure to these factors can cause all sorts of health problems, including neurological problems, and millions of people are exposed to this contaminated water.
4. Many big brands do not take responsibility for the consequences.
HuffPost correspondent Stacey Dooley attended the Copenhagen Sustainability Summit where she met with leaders from fast fashion giants ASOS and Primark. But when she started talking about the environmental impact of the fashion industry, no one was willing to take up the subject.
Dooley was able to talk to Levi’s Chief Innovation Officer, who spoke candidly about how the company is developing solutions to reduce water waste. “Our solution is to chemically break down old clothes with zero impact on the planet’s water resources and make them into a new fiber that feels and looks like cotton,” said Paul Dillinger. “We are also doing our best to use less water in the production process, and we will definitely share our best practices with everyone.”
The reality is that big brands will not change their manufacturing processes unless someone in their management decides to do so or new laws force them to do so.
The fashion industry uses water with devastating environmental consequences. Manufacturers dump toxic chemicals into natural resources. Something must change! It is in the power of consumers to refuse to purchase products from brands with unsustainable production technologies in order to force them to start changing.