How Your Fast Fashion is Slowly Killing the Earth


How Your Fast Fashion is Slowly Killing the Earth

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

“When I shop, the world gets better, and the world is better, but then it’s not, and I need to do it again,” claimed a dewy-eyed Rebecca Bloomwood, expressing her innate love for all things new and shiny in Confessions of a Shopaholic, while drowning under a pile of credit card bills. Bloomwood is not just the poster girl for shopping, but also the poster girl of alt facts. When you shop, the world doesn’t become better. It becomes so much worse.

Shopping, like sex, is the go-to millennial stressbuster, at the end of which you are fucked (financially) for a brief moment of pleasure that you are most likely to regret the following morning. Add technology to the mix and you don’t even need to step out of your house to do it.

But with all this buying, who is paying? No, not your dad’s credit card. It’s the environment.

Let’s look at the new jacket you bought yesterday. It’s the seventh you’ve bought this year and it seems perfect for those butt-hugging new jeans you found at H&M on a discount so staggering, that you thought Christmas had come early. The jacket and the  jeans together cost you less than what you’d spend on a drinking night. And after about 35-40 washes, which will barely take you to the end of the year, they will become your mom’s pocha.

Our clothes now hardly last us for a year, and yet each piece of machine-made denim sold at wholesale rates takes about a hundred litres of water to make. After the sale, we also use hundreds of litres of water to wash them – water that is never recycled in India. Once the jacket gets a rip and the denim loses its grip, they find a way into our landfills. And it isn’t just the denims – this is the fate of most of our belongings, whether it’s shoes or new sunglasses.

As our consumption bubble continues to expand, reports claim that India could need a landfill the size of Delhi by 2050 to accommodate everything that we use and throw.

Every day, an average urban Indian discards 400-600 grams of waste that includes everything from tetrapaks to shampoo bottles, which eventually gets taken to one of our landfills. Out of our total dry waste, only about 40 per cent gets treated currently (recycled for use in another form). The rest remains in those pits that sort of look like the piles of waste you saw in Wall-E, for years and years. And that polyester in your jacket will take about 200 years to decompose, eventually finding its way into your rivers, lakes, soil, and food.

Full circle, eh? It’s the term “consumption” used with all its connotations.

The 2016 documentary River Blue talks about this exact consequence of the fashion industry that’s killing the world’s water bodies with their ambition to scale and sell more and more clothes. It does not even include the bulk of our electronic waste comprising laptops, computers, phones, and television sets. That figure is estimated to touch one lakh tonnes of e-waste by 2020.

As our consumption bubble continues to expand, reports claim that India could need a landfill the size of Delhi by 2050 to accommodate everything that we use and throw. Going by the state of many of our current landfills – one of which collapsed during heavy rains last year killing two people in Ghazipur – managing a capital-sized landfill could be our greatest civic disaster.

But what will this hand-wringing achieve? Is there a way for us to make a small change, no matter how insignificant it feels in the face of all the doomsday pictures and videos we see everywhere on our feeds? Choosing the path out of cheap fashion has its own consequences, of course. Does it mean that we should sound a death knell on an industry that employs thousands of workers (albeit a lot of them in harsh conditions) and is great for the economy?

The answer lies in balance and of course, mindful recycling.

Buying ethically after researching the product a bit is a good way to go: Especially if you prefer cottons, silks, linens, and woolens over synthetic fabrics like polyesters and nylons. Our phones are made of some very valuable minerals like cobalt, tin, gold, silver and palladium, all of which are limited and mined extensively resulting in metal pollution of water, soil and air. Ensuring that you don’t overrun a phone battery so your phone lasts longer, buying a refurbished model, or tapping into the active second-hand phone market are a few options for using sustainable electronics.

This should come easy to us. As Indians, our adults have always been masters of jugaad – like turning old jeans into shorts and shorts into shopping bags. Enough startups in India will help you do that. And then of course, is the option to follow the minimalist path, where you buy only what you need: Just like this New York Times writer Ann Patchett who had a “no shopping” year at the end of which she felt very liberated. It takes discipline, sure but you could curb some of that shopping impulse too. Like Tyler Durden from Fight Club once said, “The things you own, end up owning you.” At this point, the things that we own are literally destroying us. And from where we stand, we do own a god damn lot.