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Can We Reduce Our Wardrobe’s Carbon Footprint?

Roughly thirty minutes from my house lies the port of Felixstowe, the largest and most industrious container port in the UK (dealing with 48% of the country’s container trade). As a result of the dual carriage way that runs through Suffolk, there is a never ending stream of lorries going to and from these large ships, ready to import and export the goods that we need to survive.

Never had it occurred to me that Felixstowe’s existence and my shopping habits were linked in such an impactful way.

It’s always disappointing seeing that you have to pay for delivery during one of the many clothes hauls we all participate in at some point during our life, but this doesn’t stop us from paying it. The majority of the clothes we wear are made in India, Bangladesh, China, and Vietnam, due to their cheap labour costs, and as a result of this, the majority of our clothes are shipped over to us in container ships.

According to CNN, 90% of global goods trading is transported via ships, and as a result is responsible for 3% of the world’s carbon emissions. Despite this statistic seeming small in comparison to the oil and fashion industry, this is still a huge amount in the grand scheme of things.

The unfortunate and perhaps more damaging part of this statistic is that it doesn’t take into account that the majority of the ships’ pollution goes directly into our oceans, causing a number of issues for marine life and maritime livelihoods.

According to the Independent’s report on cargo ships, they are deemed the ‘world’s worst polluters’, with one cargo ship producing the same amount of pollution as 50 million cars. This is exacerbated by the inflating population and subsequent globalisation that leads to the greater want for goods.

As the world has become more capitalist in its endeavours, fast fashion has become the centre of the fashion industry, and with fast fashion comes the need to ship large quantities of clothes to and from different countries in high demand.

Some of the main effects of cargo shipping are:

1. Noise pollution

An unlikely and often ignored type of pollution that can be detrimental to much marine life. Due to the loud noise that cargo ships emit, many fish and mammals become disturbed – specifically dolphins and whales. This causes irreversible damage to their hearing resulting in damage and death of marine life and ecosystems.

2. Oil pollution

With cargo ships having to use heavy fuel in order to function, there is always the risk of oil spillage. Oil spillages are infrequent but not an uncommon occurrence that causes devastation to marine life due to the toxicity of the fuel and inability to evaporate. An example of this is this historically significant ABT Summer spill in 1991, when 260,000 metric tons of oil spilt into the coast of Angola. The most recent big oil spill was in 2018, when the MT Sanchi sank to the east of Shanghai.

3. Greywater pollution

Waste water used on the cargo ships is then off loaded into the sea, bringing potential materials that are harmful to the ecosystems there. Microplastics, metals, and chemicals may be found in this greywater.

What is fashion’s carbon footprint?

It’s not often we think deeply about where our clothes come from or how they get here. Often, we order our clothes online and within a few days they arrive on our doorstep ready to be worn or returned.

The new age of fast fashion has caused fashion’s carbon footprint to become much larger, and much more damaging to the environment. With cargo ships being destructive to marine life due to it’s high levels of polluting, fashion plays a large role in causing this irreversible destruction to our oceans.

With reports suggesting that the shipping industry could be responsible for 17% of human caused emissions by 2050, it’s imperative that the fashion industry and it’s consumers begin to make conscious changes to their shopping and selling habits.

Whether this be through enforced regulations throughout the industry, or through personal small changes. This is vital if we are to save our oceans.

How can we reduce our wardrobe’s carbon footprint?

There are many ways that we as consumers can more consciously approach fashion. Fast fashion is often the easiest and more affordable option for the ordinary person, however, with a few changes to our lifestyle we can all make steps in achieving a more sustainable approach that in turn reduces the negative impact on the sea. This includes:

  1. Buying second hand, thrifting, or using charity shops. This is a great way to increase the longevity of an item of clothing, saving money whilst doing so and reducing the need for production of new clothing.

  2. Researching for ethical brands that are zero waste or circular. This means that even if the item still needs to be shipped, the overall effect on the environment is massively reduced. These clothes are often better quality as well, meaning that your wardrobe can last for longer without having to keep throwing out and rebuying. This helps with the cost aspect as you may spend more for an item of clothing for it to be ethically sourced, but in the long run save money as it lasts for longer.

  3. Buying clothes that are ‘made in Britain’ or locally sourced. Although this usually comes with a higher price tag, these clothes’ carbon footprint is reduced massively as a result of not having to be shipped, instead only transported around areas of the UK. Although this is not eradicating all pollution, there is a reduction in the extensive pollution caused by cargo ships. There is also the fact that the clothes are being sourced from an area that has stricter regulations in terms of worker rights.


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