Conventional Fashion’s cost to the Planet

When thinking of the cost of your clothing, you normally only convert it to monetary values; the cost to purchase the item. But there is a much more important, and alarmingly, cost we need to take into consideration; the cost to our environment. 

According to figures from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), it takes 3,781 liters of water to make a pair of jeans, from the production of the cotton to the delivery of the final product to the store. That equates to the emission of around 33.4 kilograms of carbon equivalent.

If that is for just one pair of jeans, imagine the environmental cost for everything in our wardrobes. The following statistics, published by the UNEP and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, give us an idea: 

  • Every year the fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water — enough to meet the consumption needs of five million people.
  • Around 20% of wastewater worldwide comes from fabric dyeing and treatment.
  • Of the total fiber input used for clothing, 87% is incinerated or disposed of in a landfill.
  • The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. At this pace, the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will surge more than 50% by 2030.
  • If demographic and lifestyle patterns continue as they are now, global consumption of apparel will rise from 62 million metric tons in 2019 to 102 million tons in 10 years. 
  • Every year, a half a million tons of plastic microfibers are dumped into the ocean, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. The danger? Microfibers cannot be extracted from the water and they can spread throughout the food chain.


The fast fashion industry’s operating model is exacerbating the problem by stepping up the pace of design and production. Collection launches are no longer seasonal; the replacement of clothing inventories has become much more frequent.

Many low-cost clothing stores offer new designs every week.

  • In 2000, 50 billion new garments were made; nearly 20 years later, that figure has doubled, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
  • The dizzying pace of apparel manufacturing has also accelerated consumption: the average person today buys 60% more clothing than in 2000, the data shows. And not only do they buy more, they also discard more as a result.

Less than 1% of used clothing is recycled into new garments. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that every year some USD 500 billion in value is lost due to clothing that is barely worn, not donated, recycled, or ends up in a landfill. 

If all fashion production switched to sustainable clothing; organic materials, recycled materials or plant based materials/bio based materials, we would see a  drastic reduction to water waste, carbon emissions released and toxins/micro plastics released into the environment! 

We have no planet B!


February 10, 2021 — Katie Parker