Our Love of Fast Fashion Is Destroying Our Oceans

How the fast fashion industry is harming marine life + what we can do to help

There is no denying that our planet is suffering. This fact is an unpleasant truth that all of us live with. We’ve seen the upsetting images of wild animals losing their homes to human destruction, getting trapped in nets and litter, or even, becoming extinct right before our eyes.

In an attempt to reverse the damage we’ve caused, we are changing decades worth of bad habits. We now question ourselves before throwing anything away – can this carton be recycled? Does it need another rinse clean? We may tut and sigh when our delivery parcel contains more packaging than product.

Some of us may even go the extra mile and make it an active choice of lifestyle to be as sustainable as possible. But despite our efforts, there is still a global-wide issue. We appear to be in denial about the extent of our climate emergency. I’m talking about our consumption of fast fashion, and its devastating impact on our oceans.

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word, ‘fast fashion’? Perhaps it’s ‘wasteful’? Unethical’? ‘Cheap’? If you would have asked me to summarise my opinion on popular fast fashion brands as a young teen, I’d have said gleefully: ‘bargain!’ However, in recent years, the tide has turned on this industry.

So what does fast fashion actually mean? Well, it is defined by Oxford Dictionaries to be: “Inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends”. Now, this may not sound so sinister, but combined with our planet’s dwindling resources, it is an incredibly wasteful and polluting practice.

These garments are poorly made by exploited workers, dyed with toxic chemicals, and dumped in landfills shortly after they’re sold – a consequence of their poor quality and our mass-consumption.

Whilst most of us are aware of these unsustainable and unethical practices of the fast fashion industry, we may not be aware of how it is affecting our oceans – how it is even killing marine life.

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A turtle swims with a plastic bag – Marine Conservation

Why our oceans are so important

Before dissecting the many ways that fast fashion contributes to the ocean’s devastation, it is important that we understand why we should care about our seas.

  1. Our oceans provide approximately 50% of the entire planet’s oxygen

  2. They store 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere

  3. They make up 71% of our planet’s surface and 97% of all its water

  4. They regulate our climate and weather patterns

  5. They are a home to 230,000 known species (and potentially 1.8 million undiscovered species!)

  6. They are the primary food source to over 3.5 billion people

Every single bit of plastic, litter, and pollutant in our oceans has a direct impact on all life, including ours. It boils down to the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. It’s our weather patterns, global warming, and melting icecaps. We need our oceans to be healthy. When they suffer, we suffer too. Protecting them should be our top priority.

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Richard Carey Photography

Fast fashion’s impact

You may be wondering how exactly the fast fashion industry is damaging the oceans – it certainly isn’t the first thing we think about. The damage, however, is significant, and it’s time for all of us to understand the real impact.


Microfibres are microscopic fibres that are shed from our garments. These tiny fibres are released into the water supply when they are washed in the manufacturing process and in washing machines. In fact, Green Peace notes that “One piece of clothing can release 700,000 fibres in a single wash” – wow!

To make matters worse, these fibres are finding their way into our oceans.

A 2011 study by ecologist, Mark Browne, revealed that “85% of the human-made material found on the shoreline were microfibres, and matched the types of material, such as nylon and acrylic, used in clothing.” (The Guardian).

So, what’s so bad about these tiny fibres? Well, the biggest concern is that vast amounts of these microplastics and fibres are being ingested by fish and other marine life, leading to long-term damage and potential mutations.

It doesn’t stop there, however – these microplastics are finding their way onto our plates too. When we consume fish that have ingested these harmful microplastics and fibres, we too, ingest them.

Perhaps the most concerning of all, is that a recent study revealed the presence of microplastics in foetuses – a never seen before occurrence. The long term effects of microplastics in our bodies are still unknown, but it is thought that they can cause developmental issues with the immune system.

“Microplastics pollution has reached every part of the planet, from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans. People are already known to consume the tiny particles via food and water, and to breathe them in.” Damian Carrington, The Guardian
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