The fashion industry is said to be the second dirtiest industry in the world, second only to big oil. When most of us think of pollution, we think of auto exhaust, factories, or power plants — not our clothing. In fact, cotton production is plagued by environmental and social issues. The scale of the issue is immense, with 150 million tons of clothing are sold worldwide every year, with the majority ending up in landfills. Cotton must be cultivated, traded, dyed, sewn, and shipped before it ends up on our backs — each with its associated pollution and potential social consequences. Major fashion retailer H&M is on a mission to save your fashion from ending up in landfills, and its closed-loop textile recycling initiative with I:CO is the first step in doing so.
Cotton is a demanding crop. It can require 20,000 liters of water to produce just one t-shirt or pair of jeans. Most cotton is grown on irrigated land to satiate the needs of this thirsty crop, which can threaten water security in some areas. Although a mere 2.4% of cropland cultivates cotton, it accounts for 24% and 11% of the world’s pesticide and insecticide use respectively. In addition, the dying process is both energy and very chemically intensive. Discharge water contaminated with chemicals from the dying produces threatens waterways and fresh water supplies. To top it off, the garment industry in general is tremendously wasteful, as most clothing is not recycled and rather ends up in landfills. So many resources go into clothing with only one life.
Freelance renewable energy writer