Researchers Criticize the Fashion and Textile Industry as a Global Polluter

The textile industry accounts for up to 10% of global environmental pollution, say researchers from Australia, Finland, Sweden, Great Britain, and the United States in their article, The Environmental Price of Fast Fashion, published in the journal, Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, in April 2020. In their opinion, the extensive use of chemicals in the manufacture of textiles has a devastating effect on the environment. The primary driver is the fashion industry that puts its goods on the marketplace in ever-shorter cycles.

Fibers actually come in contact with more than 15,000 different chemicals during manufacturing. Such chemicals include pesticides to treat cotton crops along with solvents, bleaches, antifoams, water repellents, surfactants, softeners, and dyes used to finish and process the fibers.

Given the broad presence of chemicals, including many that harm health and the environment, the authors call for greater data transparency along the supply chain, which would be significantly improved by complete safety data sheets. They state that regulatory agencies and consumers have a right to know what chemicals are involved. However, such disclosures are not an easy matter, since 80% of the textiles marketed in the EU are not manufactured there. Even textiles that are labeled as made in the EU consist of imported textile materials.

The article references a study by the Swedish Chemicals Agency (KEMI) from 2014. The authors of that study estimate that 10% of the chemicals involved are extremely concerning for human health.

In 2018, the European Commission issues restrictions on 33 carcinogenic, mutagenic, and reprotoxic (CMR) chemicals used in clothing, textiles, and shoes, see our blog post: EU Adopts Further Limits the Use of CMRs in Textiles.

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