80% of the fibers used in clothing are not recyclable and, according to the Portuguese Environmental Association ( APA ), we Portuguese throw away around 200 thousand tons of textiles per year.

Clothes are an essential asset every day, in all seasons, cold or sunny. We all like to look well-groomed, especially on special occasions, and sometimes it becomes difficult to walk by our favorite store and resist a piece of clothing that we see and love, right? Clothes are increasingly affordable and beautiful and our impulse is increasing when it comes to purchasing.

But do you know how big the environmental impact is caused by the textile industry? Learn about the life cycle of a piece of clothing, the environmental impacts of fast fashion and more sustainable solutions.

The life of a piece of clothing

The increase in the number of sizes and shapes, brands on the market and advertising, especially in media such as social networks, are factors that can lead to an increase in clothing purchases. The increase in offer and the possibility that some brands offer for personalization can also be considered other factors.

According to the European Commission , in 2015, around 6.4 million new clothes were purchased by Europeans. The textile industry is the second most polluting in the world, including in its various phases: production, manufacturing, transport and in its own use by consumers when washing, drying and ironing.

And do you know the life of a piece of clothing from the moment it is produced until it is discarded?

Graphic that demonstrates the life cycle of a piece of clothing.

Image 1 – Graph that demonstrates the life cycle of a piece of clothing.

We Portuguese throw away around 200 thousand tons of textiles per year

The environmental impacts of the textile industry

From the raw material itself to landfill, a “simple” piece of clothing goes through several phases and all of them have lasting environmental impacts, whether on the air, soil and even available water.

The raw materials for producing clothing also pose problems

According to the European Commission, the production of raw materials is responsible for a large part of the textile industry's footprint on the environment:

  • Cotton: is a raw material that requires large amounts of water, fertilizers and pesticides;
  • Polyester: unlike cotton, it does not need as much water but, on the other hand, it is made from fossil fuels and is not biodegradable. Furthermore, clothes made from this material can release around 700,000 microplastic fibers that end up affecting ecosystems;
  • Synthetic cellulosics: are derived from cellulose made from wood pulp dissolved from trees and represent 9% of the fibers used in clothing in the EU. Several trees are cut down every year.

Greenhouse gas emissions

According to the study “Environmental Impact of Global Clothing and Footwear Industry Study”, by Quantis, the clothing and footwear industry is responsible for around 8% of greenhouse gases globally. Footwear accounts for 1.4% and clothing accounts for 6.7% of climate impacts.

Through the following image, produced in the same study, it is possible to understand that CO2 is released at various stages in the life of a piece of clothing. This is because the textile industry, centered on the Asian continent, is dependent on coal and natural gas to produce electricity and heat.

Graph showing CO2 emissions at each stage of the life cycle

Image 2 – CO2 emissions at each stage of the life cycle.

It is possible to see that the stages of dyeing and finishing, preparation and production of fibers are those that most generate CO2 emissions.

In a practical and direct way, transportation, animal husbandry (for example, sheep), the type of fiber used (for example, and in this case, polyester that derives from petroleum) and the need for energy sources are the responsible for the release of these gases.

The clothing and footwear industry is responsible for around 8% of greenhouse gases globally.

Impact on water

At the water level, the same steps are also those that have the most consequences, with special emphasis on the production of fibers, followed by dyeing and finishing.

While in the production of fibers water is removed from the environment and after processing it is returned in a polluted form, in dyeing and finishing a large amount of water and toxic chemicals are used.

Graph showing water extraction at each stage of the life cycle

Image 2 – Water extraction at each stage of the life cycle.

Soil pollution

Many of the pieces of clothing we have access to come from cotton, right? The production of this raw material, in addition to the high quantity of water ( around 10,000 liters for each KG ), uses pesticides that end up polluting the soil.

Impacts on human health

This is also one of the topics on the table due to the use of chemicals for some production processes as well as the ingestion of water that may have been contaminated.

Furthermore, this industry is produced in countries where labor has a low cost, which means that employees have low wages and precarious working conditions.

And thou? How can you reduce your textile footprint?

Do you have extra clothes and don't know what to do with them? Do you want to reduce the textile industry's footprint on the environment and the number of times you purchase new clothes? Know some tips:

Bet on Slow fashion

Contrary to fast fashion, this trend aims to make you buy less but better quality clothes so that you can keep and wear them for longer. In this case, traditional commerce and small-scale stores that use local materials can be an idea;

Take care of your clothes in an ecological way

Do you use the right detergents that embrace the environment and make your clothes comfortable? EcoX ecological detergents are made from used cooking oil and, as they are concentrated, they avoid the need to use so much detergent. Furthermore, they are vegan and 100% biodegradable.

The use of environmentally friendly detergents is essential to reduce the ecological footprint over the lifetime of a garment. Even more so if we consider that many of the natural products we use can help restore our clothes, thus extending their average useful life.

Natural whiteners, such as EcoX Whitener, based on percarbonate, help restore the original appearance of many fabrics and remove different types of stains.

Rent clothes

Rent clothes for unique and special moments such as weddings or pregnancy

Buy and sell second-hand clothes

You can sell clothes that no longer fit you or that you no longer wear on your social networks or sell them on sites that have greater visibility for more people. You can also take the opportunity to buy something for yourself and give new life to several pieces of clothing.

Did you know that MyCloma can help you with this challenge?

MyCloma is an online platform for selling second-hand clothing, created by young Portuguese entrepreneurs, which reduces the impact of textile production on our planet.

This project promotes the circular economy by increasing the life cycle of clothes that we no longer use and that can be useful to other people. The objective is “To show that it is possible to buy good, quality pieces at affordable prices and simultaneously help the environment and avoid waste!”

You can sell and buy clothes for women, men and even children with or without a brand, of all sizes.

Author: Daniela Matos