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Is Our Clothing Toxic? It’s More Complicated Than We Think

Author: Jill Richardson | Published: July 13, 2017

Google “toxic fabrics” and a host of sites will come up, some from as far back as 1993. Generally they list a number of synthetic fabrics (acrylic, nylon, polyester) along with rayon (which is made from chemically processed wood pulp) and make the case that all are bad because they are made from scary chemicals. Obviously, natural fibers such as cotton, hemp, wool, and linen are the way to go. Those are made from plants and sheep, not coal and petroleum derivatives.

The truth is more complicated than this. Your clothing is never made solely out of just cotton or polyester. Every single fabric has some form of processing. It may be preshunk cotton, or superwash merino. It may be bleached. It’s almost always dyed. And nowadays clothing comes in all kinds of high-tech variations: UV protective, bug repellant, wrinkle-free, stain resistant, antimicrobial, and so on. Even pure cotton can be grown with pesticides.

These chemicals pose a myriad of concerns for the environment, both in the place of manufacture and due to chemicals released through washing. But what about the safety to the wearer?

The Basics: What Are Fabrics Made From?

If you look in your closet, you’ll likely find a number of different natural and synthetic fibers. Over 60 percent of global fiber consumption is comprised of petroleum based synthetic fibers, although some may be used for textiles other than clothing (like rugs or rope). Comparatively, cotton makes up nearly a quarter of textile consumption, with wool making up about 1 percent, and other natural fibers (hemp, linen, etc) accounting for 5 percent. The remaining 6.6 percent are wood-based cellulose fibers (e.g. rayon).

Natural fibers come from either plants or animals. Plants used for clothing include cotton, hemp and flax. Animal fibers are more diverse, even if some, such as yak, remain uncommon. However, sheep are not the only animals who can provide high-quality fiber: alpacas, goats (cashmere and mohair), rabbits (angora), yaks, camels, llamas, and even the wild alpaca relative, the vicuña, provide fiber used for clothing. Silk is also a natural fiber, made from the cocoons of the mulberry silkworm. Other animal products used in clothing are hides (leather), feathers (down) and fur.

While humans have used natural fibers for millennia, rayon, which is made from wood fibers with synthetic processing, was invented in 1894, and the first fully synthetic fiber, nylon, was invented in the 1930s. Other wood-based fibers produced with synthetic processing include modal and bamboo. Fully synthetic fibers, generally made from petroleum or coal products, are acrylic, polyester and spandex.

Toxicology research into clothing focuses less on the fibers themselves and more on the chemicals used in processing the fibers. Even a simple cotton T-shirt requires numerous chemicals to bring it to market. The question for consumers is not only how safe are the chemicals used, but what are you willing to sacrifice and how much are you willing to spend in order to get the chemicals out of your closet?

Chemicals WorthDyeingFor

Your clothes do not contain only cotton or rayon or polyester. They are also bleached and dyed. Dyeing also requires the use of a “mordant,” a chemical that helps the dye adhere to the clothing. While natural dyes can be used along with a mordant like alum or cream of tartar, unless your clothing says otherwise, you can be almost certain natural dyes were not used.

Three different dye chemicals (or groups of chemicals) are of most concern. Azo dyes can release chemicals called aromatic amines when you wear them, and they can be absorbed into your body. There are hundreds of different azo dyes, and a large number of them can release aromatic amines. Some of these aromatic amines are known to be toxic (or as scientists put it, they are of “toxicological concern”), and others have never been assessed for toxicity. The main concerns are that these chemicals can cause cancer, and they also may be allergens. A 2014 study found that 17 percent of clothing samples contained aromatic amines “of high toxicological concern,” including several that had them in higher levels than legally allowed in the European Union.

Second, quinoline is a chemical used in dying textiles that causes concern. According to another 2014 study, even though no human studies on their carcinogenicity are available, tests involving acute exposure of mice have demonstrated “quinoline and some of its methylated isomers to induce liver cancer.” That study found that quinoline was found in polyester clothing more than it was found in clothing made from other fibers. One study labeled quinoline a potential human carcinogen, and reiterated the correlation of quinoline with polyester.

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Here’s Why Thousands of People Are Calling on Zara and H&M to Drop Some of Their Suppliers

Author: Sara Spary | Published: July 5, 2017 

More than 128,000 people have signed a petition calling on H&M and Zara “and other fashion giants” to stop sourcing from producers linked to pollution, after a report claimed factories linked to the brands were damaging local waterways and emitting “noxious gases”.

The Changing Markets Foundation launched the petition last week after publishing a report that claimed to have found evidence of pollution surrounding major viscose fabric manufacturing sites in China, Indonesia, and India.

H&M was found to be buying from eight polluting factories and Zara was buying from four, the report said, though the foundation acknowledged that both businesses had been “among the most transparent” in dealing with the inquiries with regards to their suppliers.

Viscose is a manmade clothing material similar to silk in appearance, but cheaper. It is bought by major fashion brands and is made from wood pulp that is treated with chemicals. The report, published earlier this month, claimed that pollutants from viscose production had seeped into local waterways and air, killing aquatic life and making water undrinkable in some instances.

While the petition specifically targets H&M and Zara, the report also named Tesco, Asos, and M&S among businesses thought to be supplied by factories in those regions.

“Cheap production, which is driven by the fast fashion industry, combined with lax enforcement of environmental regulations in China, India, and Indonesia, is proving to be a toxic mix,” the report claimed.

The petition, so far signed by 129,134 people, states: “The clothes you sell have been directly linked to devastating air and water pollution at viscose factories in Asia. As customers across Europe, we demand that you immediately commit to a zero pollution policy and timeline, work with producers to transition to clean technologies, and stop purchasing from producers who fail to comply.”

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‘I Get Sick Every Time I Go to Work’: American Airlines Flight Attendant Claims Her ‘sexy’ New Uniform Is Making Her Ill

Author: Regina F. Graham | Published: July 5, 2017 

An American Airlines flight attendant claims that her ‘sexy’ uniform is causing her to have serious health problems.

Heather Poole, a 20-year crew member for the popular airliner, has been blogging in recent months about the adverse effects she claims she has experienced while sporting the company-issued suiting.

‘I get sick every time I go to work,’ she wrote. ‘Every time I go to work I feel terrible.

‘Since the uniform debuted on September 20, I’ve seen more doctors than I’ve ever seen in my life and I’ve learned things about toxic chemicals I never knew before.

‘Before the new uniform I didn’t know what ‘sensitizers’ were or what ‘synergy’ meant, and I sure as heck would have never dreamed I’d develop ‘MCS’ (multiple chemical sensitivity). Now I’m practically an expert on the subject.’

Poole suffers from hypothyroidism and says the uniform has also negatively affected her condition.

However, flight attendants began complaining about rashes with those uniforms too.

In addition to flight attendants having issues with the clothing, American Airlines pilots have also complained about health issues they believe are being caused by the chemicals in the uniforms.

More than 3,000 members of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants have also filed complaints about the new uniforms.

About 100 pilots said the new uniforms were giving them rashes, swollen eyes, and making them feel generally ill, reported Bloomberg News.

‘They have to be fit for duty,’ Dennis Tajer, an Allied Pilots Association spokesman, said. ‘If the uniform is making them not fit for duty, then something has to change.’

Tajer said a couple of pilots became so sick they couldn’t fly, and others only had symptoms when the uniforms were on.

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Toxic Clothing Affects Everyone

Author: Dr. Mercola | Published: June 27, 2017 

In September 2016, American Airlines rolled out new uniforms for more than 70,000 employees — the first uniform overhaul in 30 years. Soon after, reports started coming in from about 100 pilots and 3,000 flight attendants that the uniforms were making them sick. A variety of symptoms were reported (some occurring only while the personnel were wearing the uniforms), such as rashes, itching, eye swelling and a general feeling of malaise.1

Twin Hill, a unit of Tailored Brands Inc., which supplied the uniforms, has conducted testing, with nothing suspicious showing up that may cause the symptoms, and so far American Airlines has not recalled the uniforms, although they’ve given some employees alternative pieces and allowed them to wear their old uniforms while the matter is sorted out.2 While this may seem like an unusual story, it’s not unheard of for clothing to make people sick.

In fact, the average piece of clothing not only may be made from potentially allergenic materials (like latex, Lycra or spandex) but also may be contaminated with a variety of chemicals used during the manufacturing process.

The clothing industry is actually one of the most polluting industries on the planet, and the textiles they produce may be laced with irritants and disease-causing chemicals, which is one of the reasons why it’s so important to wash new clothes before wearing them. Even then, however, it may not make the clothing entirely safe.

What Kinds of Chemicals Are in Your Clothes?

Depending on where your new clothes were manufactured, they may contain multiple chemicals of concern. Among them are azo-aniline dyes, which may cause skin reactions ranging from mild to severe. If you’re sensitive, such dyes may leave your skin red, itchy and dry, especially where the fabric rubs on your skin, such as at your waist, neck, armpits and thighs. The irritants can be mostly washed out, but it might take multiple washings to do so.

Formaldehyde resins are also used in clothing to cut down on wrinkling and mildew. Not only is formaldehyde a known carcinogen, but the resins have been linked to eczema and may cause your skin to become flaky or erupt in a rash.3 Nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE), meanwhile, is a toxic endocrine-disrupting surfactant used to manufacture clothing.

You certainly don’t want to be exposed to NPE if you can help it, but when consumers wash their clothes, NPEs are released into local water supplies where wastewater treatment plants are unable to remove them. When NPEs enter the environment, they break down into nonylphenol (NP), a toxic, endocrine-disrupting chemical that accumulates in sediments and builds up in fish and wildlife. In an interview with “clean-fashion pioneer” Marci Zaroff, Goop outlined some of the common chemicals likely to be found in your clothing:4

Glyphosate, the most-used agricultural chemical, is an herbicide used to grow cotton. It’s linked to cancer and found in cotton textiles.
Chlorine bleach, used for whitening and stain removal, may cause asthma and respiratory problems and is found in fiber/cotton processing, including in denim.
Formaldehyde, which is carcinogenic, is used to create wrinkle-free clothing as well as for shrinkage and as a carrier for dyes and prints. It’s common in cotton and other natural fabrics, including anything that’s been dyed or printed.
VOCs, solvents used for printing and other purposes, are common in finished textiles, especially those with prints. VOCs may off-gas from clothing, posing risks such as developmental and reproductive damage, liver problems and in some cases cancer, particularly to workers.
PFCs, used widely in uniforms and outdoor clothing to create stain-repellant and water-resistant fabrics, are carcinogenic, build up in your body and are toxic to the environment.
Brominated flame retardants, used to stop clothes from burning (although this is questionable), may be found in children’s clothing. These chemicals are neurotoxic endocrine disrupters that may also cause cancer.
Ammonia, used to provide shrink resistance, is found in natural fabrics. It may be absorbed into your lungs and cause burning in your eyes, nose or throat.
Heavy metals, including lead, cadmium, chromium and others, may be used for leather tanning and dyeing. They’re highly toxic and may be found in finished textiles, especially those that are dyed or printed.
Phthalates/Plastisol, used in printing inks and other processes, are known endocrine disrupters.

Clothing Chemicals Are Largely Unregulated

You may assume that if you’re purchasing clothing in the U.S., it’s safe and free from toxins, but this isn’t typically the case. Zaroff told Goop:5

“The magnitude and multitude of toxic chemicals in the fashion and textile industries is out of control. Even though some carcinogens are regulated (for example, formaldehyde, linked to cancer, is regulated in the U.S.), most brands are still manufactured overseas, where regulation is far behind. And only the most toxic chemicals are regulated in the U.S., which means there are a huge number that are unregulated but likely to cause allergic reactions.”

This is an issue both for the people who wear the clothes as well as the environment. Textile dyeing facilities, for example, tend to be located in developing countries where regulations are lax and labor costs are low. Untreated or minimally treated wastewater is typically discharged into nearby rivers, from where it spreads into seas and oceans, traveling across the globe with the currents.

An estimated 40 percent of textile chemicals are discharged by China.6 According to Ecowatch, Indonesia is also struggling with the chemical fallout of the garment industry. The Citarum River is now one of the most heavily polluted rivers in the world, thanks to the congregation of hundreds of textile factories along its shorelines. Clothing designer Eileen Fisher even called the clothing industry the “second largest polluter in the world … second only to oil.”7

Leading Clothing Companies Commit to Using Sustainable Cotton by 2025

Genetically engineered (GE) cotton is widely used in the clothing industry, but while it maintains a natural image, it’s among the dirtiest crops in the world because of heavy use of toxic pesticides. It also takes a heavy toll on local water supplies, as hundreds of liters of water may be necessary to produce enough cotton to make one T-shirt.8

Prince Charles is among those who has voiced his support for more sustainable cotton production, noting that cotton production is “all too often associated with the depletion of local water supplies and the widespread, and sometimes indiscriminate, use of harmful pesticides [that] can take a heavy toll on human health.”9

Fortunately, earlier this year 13 clothing and textile companies, including Levi Strauss & Co., Eileen Fisher, Nike, Woolworths Holdings and Sainsbury’s, signed the Sustainable Cotton Communiqué, which commits to using 100 percent sustainable cotton by 2025. Worldwide, more than 20 million tons of cotton are produced annually in more than 100 countries.10 The 13 companies that signed the sustainable cotton initiative account for 300,000 tons of cotton each year.11

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H&M, Zara and Marks & Spencer Linked to Polluting Viscose Factories in Asia

Author: Tansy Hoskins | Published June 13, 2017 

Major fashion brands have been linked to viscose produced in polluting factories, according to a new report by the Changing Markets Foundation.

Viscose, touted as a sustainable alternative to cotton or polyester, is often used as a cheaper and more durable alternative to silk, commonly in skirts and dresses. Experts say it is just as likely to be found in a £10 t-shirt as a £2,000 suit.

Investigators for the Changing Markets Foundation visited 10 manufacturing sites in China, India, and Indonesia, and found severe environmental damage including water pollution from untreated contaminated waste, and air pollution. Brands alleged by the report to source from these factories include H&M, Inditex (the owner of Zara), Marks & Spencer and Tesco.

Most of the brands contacted by the Guardian have acknowledged that the impacts of viscose production are an industry-wide problem and say they are exploring ways to produce more responsibly.

Also known as rayon, viscose is made from cellulose or wood pulp, often from soft woods like beech, pine and eucalyptus. “Although viscose is made from generally quick growing, regenerative trees,” says Renee Cuoco, manager of theCentre for Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion, “the sustainability of the wood sources varies greatly.”

Viscose production is also chemical-heavy. Central to the process is carbon disulphide, a highly volatile and flammable liquid. The report cites evidence that carbon disulphide exposure is harming both factory workers and people living near viscose plants. The toxin has been linked to coronary heart disease, birth defects, skin conditions and cancer. Historically its use was found to cause severe mental health problems in rubber factory workers exposed to high levels of the toxin.

Other toxic chemicals used in the production of viscose include sodium hydroxide (caustic soda), and sulphuric acid.

The Changing Markets Foundation visited six manufacturing plants in China and said investigators found evidence of water and air pollution and severe health impacts on local communities. The report cites evidence in Jiangxi, a province in the southeast of China, that viscose production has contributed to the pollution of China’s largest freshwater lake, Poyang, killing aquatic life.

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Fig Leaves Are Out. What to Wear to Be Kind to the Planet?

Author: Tatiana Schlossberg | Published: May 24, 2017 

In the Garden of Eden, figuring out what to wear was easy and the fig leaves were environmentally friendly. Today, it’s much harder to find clothes that don’t have some kind of negative impact on the planet.

The Eco Guide to Laundry

Author:  Lucy Siegle  | Published: May 7, 2017 

I almost yearn for the days when 80% of a garment’s ecological impact was down to the phosphates and optical brighteners in detergent. Oh, and climate emissions from the energy used to heat the water.

Cleaning up all that was straightforward: turn the machine down to 30C and use an eco detergent.

But now there’s another laundry menace in town: microfibres (defined as particles under 5mm). According to research by Plymouth University, washing 6kg of clothes can result in anything between 137,951 fibres (for polyester-cotton clothes) to 728,789 fibres (for acrylic clothes) released as oceanic pollution.

A study from Plymouth Marine Laboratory, confirmed that microfibres evading sewage treatment works can be ingested by fish larvae. Scientists are studying the effects of this on the food chain, but it’s unlikely to be positive.

In terms of plastic fibre volume, a city the size of Berlin may be responsible for releasing the equivalent of 540,000 plastic bags’ worth of them into the ocean daily.

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Chemicals in Textiles: Risks to Human Health and the Environment

Published: 2004

The Swedish Chemicals Agency (Kemikalieinspektionen) was assigned by the Swedish government to compile available and relevant information about the risks to human health and the environment from hazardous substances in textile articles. The intention of this report is to serve as a base for further work on developing risk reduction measures for hazardous substances in textiles at the EU level. The study includes three main parts: a. An overview of textile consumption in the EU and Sweden. b. A screening study with the aim to identify hazardous substances/groups of substances posing a potential risk to human health and the environment. c. A literature study of data on exposures and effects related to hazardous substances in textiles.

Increasing consumption of textile articles and use of chemicals The consumption of textile articles has increased rapidly in the EU during the last decades. Textile materials are produced in large quantities and are included in a broad variety of widely used consumer articles. Chapter 3 presents an overview of consumption of textile materials and articles in the EU and Sweden.

Increasing production and consumption of textile articles also mean an increased use of chemicals and raw materials. Large quantities of chemical substances are used in the production of textiles, from processing of fibres and raw materials to the final touch of the finished article.

Substances used in the production of textiles can remain in the final article as minor contaminant amounts, and articles may also contain substances formed by degradation. Other substances are intentionally added to textile articles in order to provide a specified function, such as colour or easy-care. Substances in textile materials may be released from articles and expose humans and the environment. Textile articles are used in a way that both consumers the environment can be exposed to chemicals released from the articles. An overview is presented in Chapter 4.

Information is needed in the production- and supply chains

Although large quantities of substances are included in textile production, there is no comprehensive overview of hazardous substances that may be present in textile articles placed on the market.

To assess the chemical risks related to the use of textile articles it is necessary to have information about the identity of the substances and their hazardous properties. Access to information on the contents of hazardous substances in textile materials and articles is important for the manufacturers, importers and suppliers along the production and supply chains.

The requirement in the REACH Regulation, Article 33 (Section 2.1.1) concerning the duty on suppliers to provide information on hazardous substances in articles is limited to Substances of Very High Concern that are listed on the Candidate list. Thus, this duty to provide information does not included e.g. dermal allergens. 7

The majority, approximately 80%, of the textile articles consumed in the EU are imported from a non-EU country, and it is also common to import semi-finished textile materials while the article is finally manufactured and labelled in the EU. The textile supply chains are often long and complex with a global span and important information is drastically decreasing in the many steps from producer to consumer. The flow of chemical information in the supply chains is generally not adequate. The knowledge about chemical contents in textile articles should be made more readily available by increasing and improving the information exchange along the supply chain.

One step towards improved information exchange along the supply chain is the international initiatives in the SAICM programme Chemicals in Products (Section 2.3). The legal information requirement on suppliers of substances in articles needs to be further developed.

Identifying chemical substances related to textile articles

The study presented in Chapter 6 was performed to identify substances with a reported use in textile production. The REACH registration (Section 2.1.1) is one source of knowledge since data for hazardous properties and recommended use for substances should be included in the registration. Further data was also collected from several databases.

The focus of the screening study was to identify substances of potential risk to human health and the environment. Approximately 3 500 substances were identified as relevant for use in textile. However, the actual use and the presence in the final textile articles have not been verified for all these substances. It should be noted that this identification approach managed to cover only a part of all the substances that may be found in textile articles.

Of the identified substances about 2 000 substances are not yet registered under REACH. Due to the volume limit for registration and the limited obligations to register substances present in imported articles, the REACH registration data is insufficient for risk assessment of many substances used in textiles. In some cases REACH registration data for risk assessments was not easily accessible for evaluations of specific uses, and for about one third of the identified substances the REACH registrations was the only source indicating textile use.

Improved quality of data and increased availability in the REACH registration would facilitate and improve the decision-making regarding risk reduction measures for hazardous substances in textiles.

The focus of this study is functional chemicals as they are expected to be present in textiles at relatively high concentrations. However, auxiliary chemicals and unintended degradation products may also be present in the textiles and cause harmful effects on human health and the environment, but these types of substances are not covered by screening study due to the limitations.

Substances of potential risk to human health

Approximately ten percent of the identified 2 400 textile-related substances are considered to be of potential risk to human health. These substances are all functional chemicals, which are expected to be present in the final article at relatively high concentrations, and include azo dyes of direct and acid application type and fragrance. There may also be other types of substances, such as auxiliary chemicals and impurities/degradation products, that can be of potential risk to the human health. The concentration of such substances are generally lower 8 in the final textile article than the concentration of functional chemicals and therefore they were excluded from the scope of the screening study.

The identified azo dyes of direct application type have properties that are associated with an increased risk of cancer and developmental effects, whereas the identified azo dyes of acid application type and fragrances have properties that are associated with an increased risk of allergy.

The relevance of azo dyes was also confirmed by studies in the open literature. Azo dyes of direct application type are mainly used in cotton textile while azo dyes of acid application type are mainly used in polyamide. Since both cotton and polyamide are common materials on the EU market there is a potential for large-scale human exposure to azo dyes of direct and acid application type. These dyes are loosely bound to textile fibres and in particular small children sucking or chewing on textiles could be highly exposed. The dyes also have properties indicating that they are persistent in the environment and may accumulate in the aquatic food chain, which could lead to an indirect exposure of humans through dietary intake. For small children, ingestion of indoor dust, which to a large part consists of textile fibres, may also be an important exposure route to textile-related substances for small children, especially since textiles constitute a large part of the surface in the indoor environment.

The presence of hazardous substances in textiles, including azo dyes of direct and acid application type, should be further investigated.

Carcinogenic, reprotoxic and/or sensitising substances (allergens) should be avoided in articles with direct and prolonged skin contact. Although the methods we used to identify substances of potential risk involve many assumptions and limitations, the results are consistent and give reasons for further investigations, especially of azo dyes of direct and acid application type but also fragrances.

Substances that may cause severe health effects should be avoided in articles with direct and prolonged skin contact.

The overall scientific literature points out disperse dyes as the main cause of textile-related allergic skin reactions and disperse dyes were also identified as substances of concern in our screening study. In addition to the disperse dyes, we identified acid dyes as a group of sensitising substances of potential risk to human health that previously have not been associated with textile-allergy to any great extent. It is thus likely that the disperse dyes is not the cause of all reported cases of allergic skin reactions, for example certain acid dyes could also cause cases of allergic skin reactions.

Based on the findings of our screening study more than 200 allergenic textile-related substances, as for example acid-type dyes, could contribute substantially to allergic skin reactions. The testing of dermal allergy to sensitising dye substances used in textiles should be developed. Substances of potential risk to the environment Approximately five percent of the identified 2 400 textile-related substances are considered to be of potential risk to the environment. These chemicals are all functional chemicals which are expected to be present in the final article at relatively high concentrations. The evaluation of the function chemical substances clearly pointed out azo dyes of direct and acid application type as substance groups of potential risk to the environment. The 2 400 substances also include auxiliary chemicals or impurities.

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What’s the Second Most Polluting Industry? (We’ll Give You a Hint – You’re Wearing It)

Author: Marina Qutab | February 15, 2017 

Have you ever taken a moment to look at the tag on your clothes to see where your clothes were made? Chances are, the tag will read: “Made in China” or another country outside of the USA. Although the label may seem harmless because a lot of our products are manufactured in different countries, there is so much more to the story than just a “made in ____”  label. We live in a “fast fashion” world, where companies produce high volumes of low-priced clothing at the expense of the environment and workers. Companies like Forever 21 and Zara process one million garments per day. Just imagine the resources involved, both human and otherwise. In the world’s least developed countries, an estimated 40 million people sew more than 1.5 billion garments in 250,000 factories and sweatshops each year. In many cases, these workers are not provided with basic workers rights, fair wages, and ethical working conditions.

The Environmental Consequences of Fast Fashion

Cotton, one of the fashion industry’s most frequently used materials, is among the most pesticide-intensive crops on the planet. It’s estimated that one pound of cotton requires at least one-third of a pound (136 grams) of pesticides. To help you understand, it takes half a pound (227 grams) of cotton to make the average t-shirt. In addition, cotton is a water-intensive crop. To produce one pair of jeans, it takes more than 1,800 gallons of water. It’s no wonder then that the $3 trillion fashion industry is the second most polluting industry, just behind oil.

Uzbekistan, the world’s sixth leading producer of cotton, is a clear example of how cotton can negatively impact a region’s environment. In the 1950s, two rivers in Central Asia, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya were rerouted from the Aral sea to provide irrigation for cotton production in Uzbekistan and nearby Turkmenistan. Today, water levels in the Aral are less than 10 percent of what they used to be just 50 years ago. As the Aral dried up, the communities and especially the fisheries that depended on the water supply crumbled. Over time, the sea became over-salinated and encumbered with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers from the nearby fields. Dust from the arid, exposed lakebed, containing these toxins and salt saturated the air, which created a public health crisis, negatively affected the farm fields for growing crops, contaminating the soil. The Aral is increasingly transforming into a dry sea, and the loss of what used to be a large body of water has caused the region’s summers to become hotter and drier and the winters to become much colder.

Uzbekistan is not the only example of how the conventional cotton farming industry has wreaked havoc on the environment and our health. Regions such as Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin, Pakistan’s Indus River, and the Rio Grande in Mexico and the U.S.

Although organic cotton is a much more sustainable alternative, this farming mechanism is rarely used – at only one percent of all the cotton worldwide being grown this way. Organically growing cotton does have its challenges, however. The crop is still water intensive and the clothing made from it may still be dyed unnaturally with chemicals and shipped to be sold globally.

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What Happens When Fashion Becomes Fast, Disposable and Cheap?

Author: Zhai Yun Tan | Published on: April 10, 2016

When it comes to clothes these days, maybe you should ask: What’s your waste size?

You know you have those clothes sitting in your closet: That shirt you spent less than $10 on because it looked cool for a second, or that skirt you only wore once before it went out of fashion.

Fashion cycles are moving faster than ever. A Quartz article in December revealed how fashion brands like Zara, Gap and Adidas are churning out new styles more frequently, a trend dubbed “fast fashion” by many in the industry. The clothes that are mass-produced also become more affordable, thus attracting consumers to buy more.

“It used to be four seasons in a year; now it may be up to 11 or 15 or more,” says Tasha Lewis, a professor at Cornell University’s Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design.

The top fast fashion retailers grew 9.7 percent per year over the last five years, topping the 6.8 percent of growth of traditional apparel companies, according to financial holding company CIT.

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