The over-abundance of fast fashion—readily available, inexpensively made clothing—has created an environmental and social justice crisis, a study claims.
Globally, 80 billion pieces of new clothing are purchased each year, translating to $1.2 trillion annually for the fashion industry, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Health.
The majority of these products are assembled in China and Bangladesh, while the US consumes more clothing and textiles than any other country in the world, the researchers said.
"From the growth of water-intensive cotton, to the release of untreated dyes into local water sources, to worker's low wages and poor working conditions, the environmental and social costs involved in textile manufacturing are widespread," said Christine Ekenga, an assistant professor at the Washington University in the US.
"This is a massive problem. The disproportionate environmental and social impacts of fast fashion warrant its classification as an issue of global environmental injustice," Ekenga said.
The study shows that negative consequences at each step of the fast-fashion supply chain have created a global environmental justice dilemma, researchers said.
"While fast fashion offers consumers an opportunity to buy more clothes for less, those who work in or live near textile manufacturing facilities bear a disproportionate burden of environmental health hazards," they said.
Increased consumption patterns have created millions of tonnes of textile waste in landfills and unregulated settings.
This is particularly applicable to low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) as much of this waste ends up in second-hand clothing markets, according to the study.
"These LMICs often lack the supports and resources necessary to develop and enforce environmental and occupational safeguards to protect human health," Ekenga said.
The aim of the research is to highlight the environmental and occupational hazards during textile production, particularly for those in LMICs, and the issue of textile waste.
The researchers said a number of potential solutions, including sustainable fibres, corporate sustainability, trade policy and the role of the consumer, should be embraced.