Department Stores’ Dirty Little Secret

Written by Savannah Sosna

Who doesn’t love a good shopping spree? 

Shoppers gravitate toward malls regularly when in need of new clothing. Many shoppers even return often to find new trends. Many students around the Ridge said their favorite stores were found within the mall. Molly Minton, a Pleasure Ridge Park High School junior said, “ I really like H&M and Charlotte Russe. I go to the mall a lot actually. They always seem to have something I like.” 

However, there is a dark secret that the public tends to overlook when shopping in a department store. The environment is suffering while the interest of the shoppers is focused on repping new apparel.  

From the beginning of 2019 until recently, it seemed like every Instagram story was advertising the use of metal straws, saving turtles, minimizing waste, and demonstrating the best way to recycle. However, no one was addressing one of the biggest environmental polluters: the fashion industry. 

Consumerism is one of the leading causes of environmental problems and has rapidly grown within recent years. New clothing is now produced in shorter time frames with new designs appearing every few weeks to satisfy request for new material. With these requests comes increased waste. 

Textile production is one of the most polluting industries, producing 1.2 billion tons of Carbon Dioxide every year. That is more than international flights and maritime shipping combined! 

Remember the carbon footprint? Many people learn that by following certain steps, reducing the carbon footprint should be easy. If you take that into consideration, one should know that over 60% of textiles are manufactured in China and India. These countries unfortunately rely on coal-fueled power plants, which increase the carbon footprints when garments are purchased. 

When trying to buy clothing without the guilt of negative environmental impact, one should be aware of what materials the clothing consists of and how it affects the atmosphere. This can be done with a simple glance at the tag and bit of background knowledge.

In previous years, it seemed as though everything was made from cotton. Recently, Polyester has taken over with a huge cost. When polyester and other synthetic materials are made, they emit high levels of carbon into the atmosphere, as they are burning fossil fuels. In 2015, production of polyester for textiles used 706 billion kg of Carbon Dioxide. It is estimated a single polyester t-shirt has emissions of 5.5 kg, compared with 2.1 kg for one made from cotton. 

After learning this, how can you help? Have no fear, thrifting is here! With people leaning toward newer trends, millions of pieces of old clothing are donated each year to second-hand stores. By doing this, clothes are not thrown away but instead given a second chance. By choosing clothes within thrift stores, you are lessening the demand for new items within the industry.

Another way in which shoppers can go green while still looking fantastic is by supporting companies that recycle plastics into fabric. For example, a company which practices these green methods is Patagonia. They have been making cute polyester fleece jackets out of used plastic bottles since 1993. Talk about being ahead of the time! Reusing Polyester makes energy and emissions less of an issue and is becoming more common. 

Lastly, one can be educated on the impact of dyes. During the coloring process, dyes frequently do not bind to fabric and can end up in wastewater streams. This process has gone so far as to turn rivers in China and India red, due to an illegal dye dump from a local chemical plant. This has had devastating effects on local farming, as health problems started to occur from the produce being consumed. Farmers reported that the chemicals in the water caused the death of aquatic life. These events happen frequently when dying clothing. Purchasing organically dyed products from organizations that are environmentally friendly lessens demand for the toxic ones. 

Through it all, shopping should be a fun experience without worry, but that does not mean that we should turn a blind eye to horrors within fashion production. With a little education, we can take the steps needed to save our planet. Besides, green has always been a fashionable color!

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