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What is fast fashion doing to the environment?

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

We are becoming increasingly more aware of the damage that we are doing to the environment. We know that the sea levels are rising and we know that we need to work on our carbon footprint. But, do we know the damage that our clothes are causing the environment?

  • What is fast fashion?
  • What happens to our clothes in landfill sites?
  • How do our clothes pollute water?
  • What effect are our clothes having on the carbon footprint?
  • What are our clothes doing to natural habitats?
  • How can we help our planet?

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is the process of designing, making, and selling clothing as quickly and cheaply as possible. When there was once a new fashion range to reflect the four seasons of the year, there are now 52 ranges to reflect every week of the year. Fast fashion is cheap to buy, but comes at the price of being made from cheap materials that only last a few wears, and, more importantly, the deterioration of our environment. 

What happens to our clothes in landfill sites? 

A western family, on average, throws away 30 kg of clothing every year. 15% of that clothing is recycled or donated and the other 85% is taken to a landfill. 72% of fast fashion clothing is made from synthetic fibres, which are non-biodegradable. It can take up to 200 years for these fibres to decompose. As our clothing decomposes methane, a greenhouse gas, is emitted into the atmosphere. The rapid pace that we are throwing away clothing, coupled with the slow rate that clothes decompose, has resulted in landfills being inundated with clothing, emitting a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon. 

How do our clothes pollute the water?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has calculated that the fashion industry uses 1.5 trillion litres of water every year. A 2017 report stated that the average water footprint for a kilo of cotton, equivalent to one pair of jeans and a t-shirt, was 10,000-20,000 litres. This water becomes wastewater, which contains toxic substances, such as lead, mercury and arsenic. It is extremely dangerous to aquatic life and has the potential to travel to the ocean, therefore polluting the water across the globe. 

Even washing our clothes is polluting the water. One washload of polyester can release 700,000 micro-plastic fibres into the environment, and an estimated 500,000 of those fibres end up in the ocean. Although small, micro-plastic fibres are a major contributor to the micro-plastic pollution in our seas and pose a threat to the livelihoods of aquatic animals. 

What effect do our clothes have on the carbon footprint?

The UN has stated that the fashion industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industries combined. In addition, The Pulse report has predicted that fashion emissions will grow by 63% by 2030. 

Fast fashion monopolises on designing, producing and selling clothing at a rapid pace. As a result of this, the industry produces 10% of the worlds carbon dioxide emissions a year amongst other greenhouse gases. Synthetic fibres, made from fossil fuels, are constantly being used in fast fashion because they are cheaper than natural fibres. This makes the production of fast fashion clothing a lot more energy-intensive. In addition, a lot of our clothing is made in countries such as China, Bangladesh and India. These countries are mostly powered by coal, the dirtiest energy in terms of carbon emissions. Buying our clothing at the rate that we currently are is heightening the use of fossil fuels and increasing global warming through intense greenhouse gas emission.

What are our clothes doing to natural habitats? 

The fast fashion industry is a massive contributor to deforestation. In fact, 70 million trees are cut down a year to make clothes. Every year, thousands of hectares of endangered forestry is cut down and replaced by plantations of trees that are grown to make wood-based fabrics such as rayon. This loss of forest is threatening ecosystems, as well as the lives of indigenous people.

As well as deforestation, the fashion industry plays a major role in the degradation of soil. Cashmere goats and sheep are specifically mass-produced for their wool, leading to over pasteurisation. In addition, cotton is sprayed with chemicals to help it to grow, which leads to soil pollution and loss of land.

Image by crustmania

How can we help our planet?

Despite the damage that has already been done to our planet, we can prevent further damage from happening. Begin by using conscious fashion brands. These are brands that use environmentally friendly processes to design, produce and manufacturer their clothing. These brands tend to be more expensive to buy from, however, use higher quality materials to create long lasting clothing. Other than this, try to buy second-hand and recycle any of your unwanted clothing.

To prevent endorsing in fast fashion, make sure that you are looking after your clothing. Book your dry cleaning slot by visiting the Laundryheap website or by downloading our free app.


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How to be more environmentally conscious when doing laundry?

Laundry isn’t usually on the top of people’s list of ways to live a more environmentally conscious lifestyle. If you are someone who does multiple loads of laundry every week, it could be having a more substantial effect on the planet than you might think. The amount of water, energy, and products used when doing laundry can inevitably add up. 

Washing and drying your garments in a more environmentally conscious way can make for a more Eco-conscious household. These simple switches will not only reduce the environmental impact but will also save you money while you’re at it. 

  • Washing clothes in cooler temperatures
  • Always make sure you wash full loads
  • Get a green washing machine
  • Use green laundry detergent 
  • Wash by hand
  • Cut down on drying time
  • Hang clothes to dry
  • Don’t iron unnecessarily
  • Get the professionals to take care of it

Washing clothes in cooler temperatures

Up to 90 % of the energy used when doing your laundry involves just heating the water. Most of us know that having a long, hot shower is less environmentally friendly than a quick, short one. The same applies when doing your laundry. 

Washing clothes at 30°C instead of 40°C uses about 40% less energy. Doing your laundry at a lower temperature can also be better for your clothes. Exposing your clothes to hot temperatures can shorten the lifespan of the garment.

Always make sure you wash full loads.

Reducing the number of loads you do per week will save water and save you money. Even the most environmentally-efficient loads can use up to 40 gallons of water per load. 

Try reducing your loads as best you can throughout the week to reduce your carbon footprint. You could wear some clothes more than once before washing. This solution doesn’t go for all pieces of clothing, socks and underwear come to mind, but not tossing your jeans in the laundry basket after one wear is the first step to improving your laundry habit.

Invest in green machines

We are not suggesting that everyone throws out their current working washing machine and head to the shop to buy a new eco-friendly one today. If you are in the market for a new washer or dryer, buying a greener model can save energy and use less water, lowering your bills in the process. 

High-efficiency machines use between 20% to 60% less water and as little as 50% energy as traditional washing machines. Investing in a green washing machine will significantly reduce your environmental impact at home. 

washing machine

Use green laundry detergent 

Conventional washing detergents can be very damaging to the ecosystems where the dirty water we wash down the drain can end up. Standard laundry detergent contains phosphates which can have disastrous effects to marine life that comes in contact with it. 

When purchasing more Eco-friendly detergents, make sure you keep an eye out for labels that indicate the product is biodegradable and phosphate-free. These detergents are often more gentle on the skin, too. 

Wash by hand

We know this option will cause some people to wince.  Hand washing can be time-consuming, but there are some ways to make the process easier. Tools like a pedal washer can allow you to exercise while you wash your laundry, helping your body and the environment at the same time.

Hand washing can give you a sense of just how much laundry you’re going through weekly. As well as helping you see where you can cut back on the amount of laundry you do. 

Cut down on drying time.

Your dryer uses up a lot of energy – so anything you can do to cut down the time using this machine will help the environment. Not using your dryer as much can also save you money on your electric bill. 

Little things like cleaning the filter in your dryer can also save energy. If the filter is clogged, the clothes take longer to dry, meaning more energy wasted. 

Hang clothes to dry

One of the most optimal ways to cut down on time using your dryer is to hang your clothes to dry. If weather permits, hanging your clothes to dry on the line outside can take away 100% of the energy used when using your dryer. 

For people who live in a warmer climate drying clothes outside can be quick and easy. Those who live in wetter corners of the globe, can always line dry indoors all year round. Hanging clothes to dry will not only reduce energy, it will also cut your electric bill and make your clothes last longer.

Don’t iron unnecessarily

Ironing is top of most peoples most hated chores list. So why not cut it out when it isn’t necessary? Ironing consumes excess energy and can deteriorate the fabric on your clothing. 

We understand that even the most environmentally conscious of us still don’t want to rock up to a job interview with a creased shirt. To avoid looking scruffy, all you have to do is hang up your shirt straight after the wash cycle is complete. For materials that are more prone to creasing, like linen, just cut the final spin cycle on your wash, leaving more water in the fabric, resulting in fewer creases.

Get the professionals to take care of it

It might sound unconventional, but commercial washers and dryers tend to be more efficient than domestic machines because they are bigger and can take bigger loads. By using professionals like Laundryheap, you can lessen the number of loads, meaning less wasted energy and water at home. 

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Sustainable Laundry Solutions

Laundry is a time and an energy consuming activity that contributes to the CO2 emissions of the environment.

Here is what doing laundry does to the environment:

  • Chemicals from liquids (detergents/softeners)  used in the laundry are released into the environment as wastewater; greatly affecting the ecosystems.
  • Phosphates in detergent can contaminate fresh water and cause harm to humans.
  • 700,000 microplastic fibres are released into the ocean, every time you wash; causing harm to marine life.
  • One normal cycle on the washing machine typically uses up to 30 gallons of water, which then converts into wastewater.
  • High temperature washes can cause an increase of CO2 emissions by 1.2-14.9 pounds per laundry load.

Here are some of the things you can do, to have a more sustainable laundry operation:

Wash only when you need to: Reduce the number of loads you do per week and wash only when you absolutely need to. This can be done by wearing your outerwear clothes more often than once. By doing this, you’ll save a whole lot of energy, water and money! 

Wash on colder cycles: Did you know that about 90% of the energy used in the washing machine is used to heat up water for hot washes? Washing on a colder cycle completely reduces the energy needed to heat up the water.

Use green laundry detergent: Conventional detergents may contain harmful ingredients (phosphates) that aren’t good for your skin and can affect the aquatic ecosystems and marine life in a negative way. Look for detergents that are biodegradable, are phosphate-free, and are plant based products. These indicate that they’re environmentally friendly as well as kind to the skin.

Also, why not go for concentrated detergent? They have reduced packaging and reduce carbon footprint.

You can also make your own detergent! What better way for eco-friendly laundry than with homemade detergent?!

Wash by hand: The ancient way of washing clothes means less consumption of water and energy! Yes, it may be time consuming but it is a good work out.

Natural air dry: Tumble drying contributes to 75% of the carbon footprintDrying naturally uses no energy whatsoever, so if it’s a lovely sunny day, make the most of it and dry your clothes outside, if not, then dry them in your home. Only use the dryer when you need to wear your clothes right away.

Using Laundry services: Sounds a little unusual but commercial washers and dryers tend to be more efficient than domestic versions because they’re bigger and can take more kg. This means lessening the number of loads, energy and water consumption you would use at home.