How the planet pays for fashion

The production of a kilogram of cotton takes up around 10,000 litre to 20,000 litre of water

By Hardik Siroha
Published: Wednesday 06 January 2021
The textile industry has a big impact on climate change. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The 19th Century Irish writer Oscar Wilde famously said, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months”. While he must have made the remark in a completely different context of ugliness and beauty, environmental engineers and scientists of the 21st century have discovered the most hideous and expensive aspect of fashion.

No, it’s not the expensive haute couture or the male skirt. It is the contribution fashion makes towards climate change. Although philistines may be excused for their nescience and vacuity in this matter, multiple studies unequivocally show that the fashion industry is one of the major polluting industries on this planet. 

During my posting in Faridabad, I witnessed the multicoloured effluent which the jeans dyeing industry releases. Even the Central Pollution Control Board’s categorisation puts dyeing industries and tanneries in the list of ‘grossly polluting units’.

In the famous case of MC Mehta v/s Union of India, which is now synonymous with environmental legislation in India, the first type of units to face legal action were the tanneries along the Ganga which were shut down till they could created adequate capacities to treat the trade effluents discharged from their operations.

Leave aside processing, even the production of a kilogram of cotton takes up around 10,000 litre to 20,000 litre of water.

To make matters worse, trends like ‘fast fashion’ are entering our lexicon, which coupled with rising disposable incomes and increasing materialism and consumerism in the society, is leading to a situation where the brief time gap between seeing a new sartorial fad on the catwalk to the adoption of same by the masses to the rapid discarding of the same for something new, has substantially increased the fashion waste in our planet, especially the oceans.

As per a study by the United States Environment Protection Agency, there has been an over 800% increase in fashion and textile waste since the 1960s. 

This is an area where the lockdown induced by novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has proved to be a blessing in disguise. One of the outcomes of the lockdown has been decreased social outings and gatherings which have led people to reduce their spending on clothing.

Also, with the work moving to home from offices, people are ditching their pinstripes for the cosy joggers. Perhaps this is a positive change which we all can carry with us in the future.

Sometimes, the simplest of behaviours can accumulate to give the largest of impacts. People who are not from science or engineering backgrounds often ask me what they can do to tackle climate change. Well, the answer is way simpler than you expected — adopt a little minimalism and perhaps don’t feel shy to repeat an outfit at those extravagant parties.

Views expressed are the author's own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth 


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