Why do we need to take action?

Many garments, like jeans, are made from cotton, wool and viscose, which use a large amount of land and trees. To make one pair of jeans uses 10m² of land just to grow the cotton. The production process of wool also requires a large amount of land for the sheep to graze, and viscose (although a man-made material) includes fibres that are made from trees which need land to grow. We actually log over 120 million trees a year to make our clothing. Could the land we use to produce our clothes be better used for growing food to feed the increasing population or trees to capture CO2?

Fashion is responsible for around 10% of the world’s greenhouse gases, more than the shipping and aviation industries combined, in part due to its long supply chains and energy-intensive production. When we produce and transport clothing, damaging greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere. These gases (such as carbon dioxide and methane) trap energy from the sun and cause the earth to warm up, which is why they are known as greenhouse gases. The temperature of the planet needs the perfect balance and warming up even by just 2 degrees or more will have serious consequences such as melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions.

Pesticides are used in the farming of cotton to make sure that insects don’t eat the crops. It can take up to 3kg of chemicals to produce 1kg of cotton. When cotton is harvested it is off-white in colour, and in order to make colourful garments it has to be dyed which uses a variety of chemicals. All these chemicals and pesticides can be quite harmful and toxic to both humans and the environment. Numerous other chemicals are also used to process and finish our clothes, including water repellent coatings and anti-wrinkle treatments. The fashion industry consumes around 25% of all chemicals produced globally.

Fashion is the second biggest polluter of clean water around the world after agriculture. Unregulated textile factories often dump dirty and polluted water from dyeing and washing fabrics back into local streams and water sources. This leaves local communities without safe water to drink and bathe in. Producing our clothes also consumes a lot of water, from the water needed to grow cotton to the production process of dyeing, washing and finishing fabrics. For example, producing just one pair of jeans uses 2,9121 litres of water. That’s approximately the same amount of water you drink over 2 years.

Plastics are found all the way through the clothing production chain. Polyester, a man-made fibre, is the most widely used fibre in our clothes. What you may not know is that polyester is also a type of plastic. This can be a very durable fabric when not made cheaply - meaning it has the potential to last a long time. However it also takes its toll on the environment in two ways. Firstly, if polyester clothes are sent to landfill they take over 200 years to decompose - it’s almost the same as trashing single use plastic, like water bottles. Every year, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles is shed into the ocean from washing our clothes. Secondly, when we wash polyester clothing the fabric sheds micro-plastics into our waterways, which are too small to see but are highly damaging to marine life. During the production process, clothes are often wrapped in plastic bags and plastic wrap to protect them while they are being transported between factories and to the shops where you buy them. We are also often given plastic bags when we buy clothes in shops.

Clothes are being used and disposed of faster than ever before. The average consumer now buys 60% more clothing items a year, and keeps them for about half as long, as they did about 15 years ago. Globally one full garbage truck of textiles is burned or sent to landfill every second, and in Hong Kong we throw away 370 tonnes of textiles every day (note the word ‘textiles’ is not unique to clothing and includes towels, curtains, bedding etc.). It’s hard to imagine but that’s a mountain of clothing weighing around the same as 1.5 x Hong Kong's Big Buddha being dumped into Hong Kong’s landfills every day, 365 days a year. Clothing can take a very long time to decompose in landfills (for example, a pair of nylon tights takes 30-40 years to decompose), and during the decomposing process they release greenhouse gases and other harmful pollutants into the air.

Get Redressed Month

October 2019

Get Redressed Month is our annual public awareness campaign that encourages Hongkongers to find out more about the impact our love of fashion has on the environment.

Join us throughout October to find out how you can keep your clothes in use for longer and out of landfills.

Join us now