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Impacts Of Fast Fashion On Landfills

Some of my fondest memories of childhood were when I needed new clothes. A holiday, change in season or start of the school year meant a new outfit. But there were no mall shopping sprees, visits to big box retailers or even perusing of catalogs. My outfits always started with my mother’s measuring tape and a visit to the fabric store.

Little girl sitting at sewing machine with back to camera

The most exciting part for me was picking out the pattern and yardage. I’d sit next to my mother at the long measuring tables, flipping through pattern after pattern, looking for that perfect image to match what I had in mind. A few late nights later and my mother would produce a pokey pin-lined dress, pants suit, nightgown or even a bathing suit ready for my first fitting.

Each piece got worn repeatedly, until it was too small and passed on to a younger sibling. That’s just the way it was. We didn’t have a lot of money and my mother was older than many of my friend’s moms and of a different generation -- a generation that thought long and hard before throwing anything away.

My, my, how times have changed.

These days over six percent of the garbage tossed in U.S. landfills every year is classified as textiles. That’s 15 million tons of clothing waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. For the sake of comparison, plastics make up 13 percent of our waste.

It’s a massive problem, largely brought on by what’s now known as the fast-fashion industry -- cheap clothing made in mass quantities, often in developing countries overseas, from poor materials that begin to show wear after just a few washes.

According to the World Resources Institute, one garbage truck of clothes is burned or sent to landfills every second. But the impact of consumers buying cheaply made clothes and wearing them just a few times doesn’t stop at the landfill. Fast fashion also depletes non-renewable resources, causes greenhouse gas emissions and uses massive amounts of water and energy in production. Beyond the environmental impacts, the social impacts are steep.

Manufacturers produce clothing cheaply and quickly on the backs of overseas labor markets. Much of our apparel is made by young women between the ages of 18 and 24, most of whom earn a meager monthly wage. In Bangladesh, for example, garment workers make less than $100 per month. And a U.S. Department of Labor report in 2018 found evidence of forced and child labor in the fashion industry in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Turkey, Vietnam and elsewhere.

Much of the cheap, fast fashion coming out of these countries is made with a

stylish young woman wearing sunglasses and  a red headscarf made from a plastic bag

petroleum-based synthetic fiber we all know as polyester. It’s an inexpensive, strong, lightweight, durable product that resists shrinking and wrinkling and, on top of all that, is easily dyed. It also doesn’t breathe, a quality that pretty much wipes out all of its advantages in many consumer’s eyes. And when it comes right down to it, polyester is basically plastic. A type of plastic made up of tiny fibers -- which scientists are increasingly finding floating in our oceans. Yes, the impact of fast fashion is that far reaching.

It may all sound like doom and gloom, but know that there are things being done to counter the impacts of manufacturing and selling cheap, throw-away clothing. Some high-end fashion industry retailers like Universal Standard and Eileen Fisher not only make sustainable clothing but will buy back garments once the consumer is done with them. And innovative companies like thredUp -- an online consignment and thrift store -- work hard to see clothing get a second life.

“Vintage and second-hand is great, and buying from companies that recycle fabric or are completely vegan is also the rage,” writes columnist and editor Bonnie Riva Ras for Goodnet, a media platform that, simply put, promotes goodness. “But the next big trend in sustainable fashion are brands that make clothing out of recycled plastics using sources such as polyester, soda bottles and even fishing nets.”

Companies such as British swimwear brand Batoko promote their line as literally being made out of trash. Its products are fashioned entirely out of recycled products. And legendary outdoor clothier Patagonia has been making recycled polyester from post-consumer soda bottles since 1993.

“We’re rubbish. Literally,” boasts Batoko’s website. “To date, we have recycled the equivalent weight of 300,000 plastic bottles into swimwear.”

Impressive. 

But let’s face it, when it comes to the three R’s -- reduce, reuse, recycle -- it’s the first that’s arguably the most important.  Eliminating or reducing frivolous consumerism of cheap, limited-use plastic products -- including fast fashion -- is a lofty goal. And it’s one we shouldn’t take lightly.

Each of us has the option of slowing down, thinking, and choosing natural, well-made products that will last for wear after wear, be of greater value, and, most importantly, biodegrade once they are ultimately discarded. Such products are often not only made by people making a living wage, but also leave a much smaller carbon footprint as opposed to synthetic fabric. 

CastleWare Baby holds the philosophy that the needs of the customer go hand in hand with respect for the environment. After all, it’s the next generation CastleWare is working for.

With that in mind, the California-based company not only uses natural, breathable

Close up of cotton bol

cotton, but goes one step further and only makes garments out of 100 percent organic cotton. And everything used in the manufacturing process -- save for zippers and non-slip soles in footies -- is biodegradable, right down to the garment bags, which also happen to be compostable.

The choice to work with only organic cotton was an easy one for the woman-owned company to make given the negative environmental impacts conventionally grown cotton has on the environment, not to mention farmers, textile workers and even your baby. The crops aren’t treated with pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides, which can be harmful for farmers, workers, entire wildlife ecosystems and, eventually, consumers.

And, according to the Textile Exchange, organic cotton is 46 percent less harmful to global warming, provides 70 percent less acidification of land and water, reduces the potential for soil erosion by 26 percent, reduces surface and groundwater use by 91 percent and may reduce energy demand by as much as 62 percent.

But in the end it all comes down to the simple economics of supply and demand -- and that’s where you, the consumer, comes in. Because no matter how many clothing companies choose to go green, recycle or use only natural, organic fibers, in the end it is the purchasing power of you and me that will control the market and, quite frankly, the future of our planet.

Think about it and choose wisely.