Environmental impacts of Textiles

The textile industry is the second greatest polluter of the local freshwater in the world. Over production of materials especially using synthetic fibres is one of the major factors contributing to the industrial pollution.

Most of the fibres that are used in the garment sector are polyester which releases 2 to 3 times more carbon emissions than natural fibres like organic cotton.

Textile production is estimated to be responsible for about 20% of global clean water pollution from dyeing and finishing products. Washing synthetics releases an estimated 0.5 million tons of microfibres into the ocean a year.

In most of the countries in which garments are produced, untreated toxic wastewaters from textile factories are dumped directly into the rivers.

Wastewater contains toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, among others. These are extremely harmful for aquatic life and the health of the millions of people living by those rivers banks. The contamination also reaches the sea and eventually spreads around the globe.

Another major source of water contamination is the use of fertilizers for cotton production which heavily polluted runoff waters.

Every time we wash a synthetic garment (polyester,nylon, etc), about 1,900 individual microfibres are released into the water, making their way into our oceans. Scientists have discovered that small aquatic organisms ingest those microfibres. These are then eaten by small fish which are later eaten by bigger fish, introducing plastic in our food chain.

Laundering synthetic clothes accounts for 35% of primary microplastics released into the environment. A single laundry load of polyester clothes can discharge 700,000 micro-plastic fibres that can end up in the food chain.

The fashion industry is a major water consumer.
It takes a lot of water to produce textile, plus land to grow cotton and other fibres. It is estimated that the global textile and clothing industry used 79 billion cubic metres of water in 2015, while the needs of the EU's whole economy amounted to 266 billion cubic metres in 2017. To make a single cotton t-shirt, 2,700 litres of fresh water are required according to estimates which is enough to meet one person’s drinking needs for 2.5 years.

Huge quantity of fresh water is used for the dyeing and finishing process for all of our clothes. As reference, it can take up to 200 tons of fresh water per ton of dyed fabric.

Also, cotton needs A LOT of water to grow (and heat), but is usually cultivated in warm and dry areas. Up to 20,000 liters of water is needed to produce just 1kg of cotton. This generates tremendous pressure on this precious resource, already scarce, and has dramatic ecological consequences such as the desertification

of the Aral Sea, where cotton production has entirely drained the water (see pictures below).

“ 85 % of the daily water needs of the entire population of India would be covered by the water used to grow cotton in the country. 100 million people in India do not have access to drinking water.”— Stephen Leahy, The Guardian


In today’s world, waste is at the heart of fashion! 95% of all textiles having the potential to be reused or recycled are thrown away in the landfills.

It occurs all along the supply chain, throughout consumer use, right up to the end-of-use disposal.

This physical journey of waste is the central tenet of ‘being in or out of fashion’ embedding the notion that it’s acceptable to discard a garment regardless of whether it is still functionally useful.

We like buying more variety of Apparel so as to look adorable or to fill the wardrobe but end up in using few. Of course, as the consumption level is increasing, the production level definitely increases and those clothes contribute to resource pollution and waste accumulation due to the fact that most of these items will one day be thrown out.

Clothing has clearly become disposable. As a result, we generate more and more textile waste. A family in the western world throws away an average of 30 kg of clothing each year. Only 15% is recycled or donated, and the rest goes directly to the landfill or is incinerated.

People are consuming more than they need. They get cheaper prices and the companies producing these cheap items are making profit and producing clothing in surplus. This creates a trend called fast fashion. It enables speed in the design, creation and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasises making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers. This fast fashion is leading to a greater impact on society as well as the environment.

Synthetic fibres, such as polyester, are plastic fibres, therefore non-biodegradable and can take up to 200 years to decompose. Synthetic fibres are used in 72% of our clothing.

Also, The Textile production requires significant amounts of chemicals, water, energy, and other natural resources and when consumers throw away clothing in the garbage, not only does it waste money and resources, but it can take 200+ years for the materials to decompose in a landfill and during the decomposition process, textiles generate greenhouse methane gas and leach toxic chemicals and dyes into the groundwater and our soil. Given the growth in global population, equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.


As the fashion industry moves to become more transparent and reduce its environmental footprint, it must tackle the chemicals in clothing that are making fashion toxic.

Chemicals are one of the main components in our clothes.
Chemicals are used in every part of the textile production for making fibres, bleaching and dyeing fabrics, etc… When they arrive in the shops, our clothes still contain a lot of chemicals, even clothes made of "100% natural" fiber. Our skin is our body's largest organ and absorbs anything we put on it, including chemicals in our clothes. These can present a real danger to our health.

They are used during fiber production, dyeing, bleaching, and wet processing of each of our garments. The heavy use of chemicals in cotton farming is causing diseases and premature death among cotton farmers, along with massive freshwater and ocean water pollution and soil degradation.

It is estimated over 8000 synthetic chemicals are used in the fashion manufacturing process, this includes carcinogens and hormone disruptors. Carcinogens are substances that are linked to the formation of cancerous cells. Other harmful materials used include flame retardants, AZO dyes, chromium and formaldehydes. For the person that wears the clothes, these synthetic chemicals can cause skin irritation and aggravate any allergies.

But, it’s not just the consumer who is affected by the chemicals used in clothing. To understand the impact of the toxicity in the fashion industry, we need to consider the workers across the supply chain who are responsible for treating, dying and producing our garments. These workers are often exposed to hazardous substances without adequate health and safety protection.

To avoid chemicals in our clothing-

-Opt for organic materials like linen, sustainably farmed cotton and hemp that are coloured with natural dye. You could also purchase items that are made using innovative circular biomaterials and vegan leather alternatives.

-Keep your eyes out for certifications. If an item of clothing has been marked by GOTS and STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX®, it means textiles are tested for harmful substances.

-Shop with chemical free clothing brands who are dedicated to designing safe alternatives for wearers and workers.

-Start adopting smart sustainable laundry habits. Wash before you wear and use filtering tools to catch any harmful substances that could enter the water.


At the forefront of environmental problems are greenhouse gas emissions that pose a threat to all living things due to the effect on climate. Burning fossil fuels significantly increases the amount of carbon dioxide emissions, which is the primary source of the greenhouse effect.

In textile enterprises, sulfur and nitrogen oxides usually emerge due to the boilers. These oxides disrupt the pH balance of habitats, damaging living organisms and also cause degradation of metal artifacts. The other important air emission sources in textile processing are anti-crease finishing, drying, printing, dyeing and wastewater treatment facilities. These processes dissipate hydrocarbons which are released from mineral oils during drying and curing processes which are performed at high temperature, acids, formaldehyde, softeners, and other evaporating compounds. Remnants from the fiber preparation process sometimes can cause emissions during thermal fixation.

The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. Total greenhouse gas emissions related to textile production is equal to 1.2 billion tons annually.

Synthetic fibres (polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc.), used in the majority of our clothes, are made from fossil fuel, making production much more energy-intensive than with natural fibres.

Most of our clothes are produced in China, Bangladesh, or India, countries essentially powered by coal. This is the dirtiest type of energy in terms of carbon emissions. For this reason, all of the stakeholders in this industry must gather to support the maintenance of sustainability.


The lifelong ecological impacts of textile products are affected by the raw materials, their origin and the durability of the product, in addition to the production methods. Increased textile consumption due to improvements in the world population and improvements in living standards along with the environmental effects of the textile, require the improvement of the environmental performance of this industry. In this sense, the concept of environmental sustainability has become a matter of concern in the textile sector.