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It is an open secret that the only industry that has caused bigger pollution than the fashion industry is the oil industry. The fashion industry entails supply chains of production, raw material, manufacture of textile, clothing construction, retail, shipping, use, and disposal. Going deeper, you may find a pattern that runs across the use of obvious pollutants including pesticides made use of in cultivation, toxic dyes for fabric manufacture, high amount of waste clothing produced, in addition to the alarming increase in the use of natural resources for farming, extraction, harvesting, manufacturing, processing, and shipping.
For instance, for manufacturing synthetic fibers including polyester, a large amount of crude oil and energy is used which emits harmful emissions such as volatile organic compounds, acid gasses including HCL, particulate matter. Both nylon and polyester are by-products of petrochemicals meaning they are unsustainable by default. There is a large amount of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, emitted out of nylon manufacture. To put it further, one pound of nitrous oxide can impact the air by 300x times than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming. Another matter of grave concern is the amount of waste emitted by the fashion industry. About 15 million tons of textile waste was released in 2013 alone.
While reliable studies conducted worldwide links chemicals directly to human health issues, the chemicals used in garments during production have been linked to lung, kidney and liver disorders and neurotoxicity and other ailments. If you are wearing wrinkle-resistant shirts, don’t forget they are made with formaldehyde and have been associated with nose and eye irritation and skin allergies.
There are thousands of chemicals that pose a potential threat when manufacturing garments such as Dimethylformamide in acrylic fabrics, Azo dyes used in coloring, Phthalates in fake leather, waterproof clothing and raincoats, and Nanosilver in clothes labeled as ‘anti-microbial’.
All said and done, chemicals found in garments have not been found to cause human health issues more serious than irritations and allergic reactions, but the fact is there are always safer substitutes and using these chemicals isn’t always needed.