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Simply Sustainable: Waste in the Clothing Industry

The clothing / fashion industry is considered one of the largest polluters, even compared to other industries like agriculture.

Luckily for us, we get to experience the convenience of visiting a store or even better, clicking a button online to receive the piece of clothing we desire. One does not commonly think about all the production behind an item of clothing that was just purchased, but it is important to at least be aware of and recognize the processes of the clothing industry. 

What is fast fashion?

Essentially, the term refers to the business model or practice of mass-producing trending and high-fashion designs at a low cost. Over the past decade or so designers have been putting out more collections per year then they previously did. Trend cycles have sped up and companies are trying to keep up with changing preferences. 

With the fashion industry constantly trying to put out the next best thing, it is exploiting workers and the environment. There is a long process that goes into creating any piece of clothing, from design to sourcing materials to pattern creation - a lot of behind the scenes production is going on. 

Sourcing Materials  

After designs are created and pre-production is completed, it is time to source materials and get into the manufacturing. 

Clothing often consists of materials like cotton and polyester. Polyester is a plastic and is essentially created from the burning of fossil fuels like petroleum and coal, two non-renewable resources. It is an intensive and significantly environmentally damaging process. "Clothes often consist of polyester, a plastic found in an estimated 60% of garments. Producing polyester releases two to three times more carbon emissions than cotton, and polyester does not break down in the ocean". - Green Peace 

Cotton is another commonly used material to make clothing. Cotton is extremely water-intensive and also requires large amounts of pesticides. It is one of the most heavily sprayed crops, which leads to soil degradation and water pollution due to runoff. 

Rayon is another material that is used, it is a wood-based crop and production of rayon results in deforestation. 

Water Pollution and Consumption 

Water is needed to not only grow crops like cotton, but also needed for the dyeing and finishing processes of clothing. "The fashion industry is the second-largest consumer of water worldwide, taking about 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton shirt and 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans". - UNEP

Textile dyeing is one example. After textiles are dyed the leftover mixture of water and dye is often dumped in soil or bodies of water, instead of being properly disposed of. This causes water pollution and soil degradation, not to mention that the chemicals used in the production and dyeing can also be very harmful to the workers and farmers. 

Most manufacturing is outsourced, meaning that labor happens internationally. Usually in third-world countries where labor is cheap and can be easily exploited. This also exploits the local environment, as they are the ones seeing the impacts from the poor manufacturing practices. 

What happens next? Distribution

After the clothes are produced, it is time to get them to the public. After manufacturing, the items are then sent all over the world. To different retail locations or various distribution centers, where they are then available to the public. 

Not only does creating the clothing contribute to environmental damage, but so does distribution. The entire process of creating a piece of clothing can involve several countries from start to finish, meaning signification transportation and more pollution. "Air travel is one of the most efficient methods, but the most energy intensive. Sea shipping is the most environmentally friendly". - Quantis.

Brands and consumers both want to have the newest, trending items and this creates a waste-culture. Once something is no longer "in-style", is it not desirable anymore and ends up in landfills. Clothing waste is also often incinerated, which leads to more pollution as the materials burn and release emissions. "Only 15% of clothing that is thrown away each year is recycled or donated, and the rest goes directly to landfills or is incinerated". - The True Cost.

What can we do?

Sustainable fashion is on the rise and many companies are pledging to lower their carbon footprint and look for new materials.

With the new generation of shoppers being more environmentally conscious, they look towards brand transparency. This means brands that are fully communicative about how and where they source their materials and what practices they use in production. 

Choose clothing items that are made out of natural or semi-synthetic fibers and stay away from materials like polyester. 

Instead of buying new clothing, try second-hand shopping at local thrift stores or at online thrift stores like Or just buy less clothing, stick to purchasing quality clothing that does not need to be replaced often. And support local, small businesses instead of big commercial stores. 

Buy less, buy quality and recycle! 

At SUR, we are dedicated to improving our practices and working towards being as sustainable as we can. This is why we use glass bottles for our products! We also created a refill program that allows you to purchase products at 40% off and send your bottles back to us to be sterilized and refilled.

Learn more here: 


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