Your Next Shopping Spree Is Damaging Way More Than Just Your Wallet

It’s a casual day at Westfield, or Stockland, or your local mall, you know the one. You’re probably sipping on a tropical storm boost juice, browsing needlessly through a rack of clothes. You let your fingers graze over and interrogate the fabric, you take it off the coat hanger and hold it up to your body. What are the thoughts that run through your mind?

Does the item strike you as unique? As essential? As “you”? While you’re thinking about this, here’s another thing to consider: In fewer than an average of seven wears, that article of clothing will become a piece of waste. Literal rubbish. It will clog up and contaminate the earth’s resources, turning waterways devastatingly, toxically colourful from the dye it’s dipped in.

It’s a fact almost too overwhelming to admit, especially when “shopping sprees” are so enjoyable and consumerism is so normalised, but fashion is choking our environment. Fast.

Something in the water

A recent documentary called River Blue explores the massive impact clothing has on the world’s rivers and oceans. In the trailer for the film, they cite one fashion brand using 28 trillion gallons of fresh water every year in the manufacturing of their clothes. They tour through the devastated regions in developing countries that bear the brunt of this contamination, the people falling victim to the poisonous chemicals like mercury and lead that clothing leaks into their water supply.


Photo: River Blue/Facebook

It’s a startling problem. And it begins right here, with consumers just like us. The ABC reports that in Australia alone, over 500,000 tonnes of textiles and leather are dumped into landfill each year. Textiles and leather that could take more than 200 years to breakdown, sitting as stagnant piles in the meantime.

It extends worldwide, too. Did you know we’re collectively consuming twice as much clothing as we did 20 years ago? The advent of this crisis is so recent, it’s alarming.

In March, a giant landfill collapsed in Ethiopia, crushing a small village of 150 people and killing 46 people. In 2013, 1000 people in Bangladesh were killed after a factory collapsed due to extremely unsafe working conditions. These are the immediate human tolls we’re seeing from fast fashion, not including the impact that the poisonous rivers and waterways have on those without access to clean water. In the trailer for River Blue, they cite the rampant cases of liver cancer directly attributed to the dirty water.

What ever happened to longevity?

Fashion journalist Clare Press told the ABC, “The average woman wears only 40 per cent of what’s in her wardrobe, which means that 60 per cent is there ready to go to Vinnies or go to landfill.”

While a trip to Vinnies may feel altruistic, it’s not always the perfect fallback: The charity clothing outlets are so overwhelmed with donations that they’re mostly turned into rags or sent overseas to developing countries. Only 15 percent of clothes are actually resold within Australia.


Photo: Su–May/Flickr

Press went on to talk about what we consider as a worthwhile buy: “It comes back to this idea of value. Value used to be about this idea of not just price, but quality. Today I think value is synonymous with this idea of a bargain.”

She says that if a piece of clothing cost you $15, your sense of responsibility for it lessens and you therefore feel so much better about throwing it away. Thus your desire to constantly refresh your wardrobe.

The best thing you can do to help, is to refrain from buying so much. If you really need to buy clothes, only buy garments that you are certain will last. Ones that sit outside the impossibly fast turnover of fashion trends. Not only will it save you money, time and effort to re-wear your clothes into the ground, it will be immensely help the earth we live on.

Besides, it’s so 2003 to care about outfit repeating. It’s time we reclaim it.

h/t: ABC News