We are all becoming more aware of the environmental impact of our clothing choices. The fashion industry has witnessed an increase in “green,” “environmentally friendly” and “sustainable” clothing. This includes increasing the use of natural fibers, such as wool, hemp, and cotton, because synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, acrylic, and nylon, have been vilified by some.
However, the drive to be “natural” blurs the more complex picture.
Natural fibers in fashion apparel are products of various transformation processes, which largely depend on intensive manufacturing as well as sophisticated chemical manipulation.
While they are considered biodegradable, the extent to which they do so has been contested by several studies. Natural fibers can be maintained century and even thousands of years in a certain environment. Where fiber is found degraded they can release chemicals, for example from dyes, to the environment.
When they were found in environmental sample, natural textile fibers are often present in comparable concentration of them Plastic alternative. However, very little is known about them environmental impact.
Therefore, until they biodegrade, natural fiber will present the same physical threat as plastic fibers. And, unlike plastic fibers, the interaction between natural fibers and general chemical pollutants and pathogens is not fully understood.
Fashion environment footprint
It is in this scientific context that fashion marketing for alternative fiber usage is problematic. However well intentioned, the movement to find alternative plastic fibers poses a real risk of worsening the unknown environmental impact of non-plastic particles.
To assert that all these problems can be solved by buying “natural” simplifies the environmental crisis we face. To promote different fiber use without fully understanding the environmental consequences indicate dishonest involvement with environmental actions. This instigated the purchase of “shallow greens” which exploited a culture of plastic anxiety. Their message is clear: buy differently, buy “better,” but don’t stop buying.
However, “better” and “alternative” fashion products are not without complex social and environmental injustice. Cotton, for example, is widely planted in countries with few laws protect the environment and human health.
The Aral Sea Drain in Central Asia, which is officially the fourth largest lake in the world, is associated with irrigation of cotton fields which drains the river that feeds it. This has destroyed biodiversity and destroyed the fishing industry in the region. Processing natural fibers into clothing is also a major source of chemical pollution, where factory waste is discharged into freshwater systems, often with little or no care.
Organic cotton and Woolmark wool is probably the most famous natural cloth used. Their certified fibers represent welcome material changes, introducing new fibers into the codified market, raising production standards. However, they still contribute fibrous particles to the environment during their lifetime.
In general, low systemic salaries for fashion, lethal working conditions, and extreme environmental degradation indicate that too often the purchase of affordable clothing is done at a higher price to someone and somewhere.
Slow fast mode
It is clear then that a radical change in our purchasing habits is needed to overcome the crisis of the fashion environment. A crisis not determined by plastic pollution alone.
We must reassess and change our attitude towards our clothing and renew the entire life cycle of our clothing. This means making a difference, buying less and buying second hand. This also means having longer, repurposing, remaking, and repairing.
The role of fashion in the issue of plastic pollution has contributed to the main emotive headline, where the purchase of plastic fibrous clothing has become very moral. In buying plastic fibrous clothing, consumers are involved in poison the ocean and food supplies. This limited discourse transfers accountability to consumers for “buying naturally.” However, they do little to equally challenge the environmental and social ills of these natural fibers and the retailer’s responsibility to them.
Therefore, the increased availability of “natural” fashion products fails to fundamentally challenge the logic of the most polluting industries – fast, continuous consumption, and fast routine disposal. This is only rooted in the form of environmental actions that can be bought and commodified— “natural buying.” This stops the more basic reassessment of “business as usual” mode, which we must slow down.
‘Plastic-free’ mode is not as clean or green as it looks (2020, 2 June)
taken June 2 2020
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