There is no cheap clothes. Cheap production causes environmental damage.

Cheap clothing is also an ecological problem

Why is the environmental impact of clothing so great? Part 2.

In the publication More is more I started a series of ecological problems caused by the clothing industry. The first part dealt with quantity, the second part with price, especially from the point of view of the ecological impact of cheap production.

Fortunately, we have already woken up to the ethical problems of extreme cost-effectiveness. However, cheap clothes are also a problem for the environment. Although ecology and ethics cannot be completely separated, I will now leave this article without addressing ethical issues related to pay or working conditions. May they receive their own post in due course.

Ecology requires investment

When the price of clothing is squeezed as low as possible, it means exporting production to countries where labor is cheapest. Low-cost labor is typically located in countries where infrastructure is underdeveloped, the environment is not protected by law, and there may be no information on environmental impacts in the community. Environmental protection is still a luxury that cannot be afforded in many circumstances, as long as the foundation of living is shaky.

In the absence of sewerage networks or eco-electricity networks, it is quite unrealistic to expect them to be developed locally on their own if the price of production has been driven extremely low. If work is not even paid enough to live on, our customers hardly support the development of local infrastructure to be more environmentally friendly. The customer can make demands on quantity, quality, salary, etc., but as long as the compensation does not properly cover the costs, development work will hardly take place.

For example, companies operating in Finland can easily put on a more ecological gear by ticking the box on the electricity contract. In this way, we can conveniently have even wind power without our own efforts or large investments. There is no such possibility where there is only one setting in the electricity grid. So cheap production heats our winters here all the way north.

The underdevelopment of sewerage networks, and with it water treatment and wastewater treatment, also causes local environmental problems. The chemicals and wastewater used to make the clothes then end up in the immediate vicinity of the factory. In this case, the effects will no longer be limited to people who make clothes, but to entire ecosystems. The question arises as to the justification that the clothes we make are directly affected by people’s health elsewhere. Not only indirectly through climate change, but directly, for example, through drinking and domestic water.

I made your clothes, Photo from Pure Wasten Indian factory.
Sometimes manufacturing in distant lands may also be justified for environmental reasons. This is the case, for example Pure Waste Textilesin the case of production close to the place of origin of the material. However, efforts have been made to turn the factory’s impact to the benefit of the local community of Tiruppur. The plant uses 95% wind power, the water consumption of the plant is regulated, and the well is used by the entire community. Photo: Pure Waste Textiles.


Has everything in the position already been done? (No.)

So I would like to challenge clothing companies in developing countries to the basics. At the moment, the aim is to gain market value with various eco-issues in a spectacular way, but at the same time is the whole production being developed to be as ecological as possible?

Are there already plants in place with drainage, is there water treatment, is there a closed chemical cycle? Exactly the basics, which, however, are far from being realized everywhere.

How many companies manufacturing in developing countries can say that production is already done with renewable energy, even to some extent? Unfortunately, I do not think the list is very long, but the impact is even greater.

As long as the chemicals in the clothing industry flow into rivers and the machines poke with the power of oil, there is still very much to be developed.

Of course, it is not cheap.

The illusion of cheap price

When talking about the price of clothing, the most talked about costs are sewing work, and we are talking about, for example, the high price of Finnish work or heavy taxation. However, we might start to think that we are also paying for clothes made in Europe, for example, because there are no chemicals in the clothing industry in our drinking water, or because the sewing machine is rattling with wind power.

Instead, cheap clothing also causes us delusions of thought. When a product is very cheap, it is difficult for us to perceive that it has required a great deal of resources and a great deal of work to produce. So what we can get cheaply, we buy grief and throw away without thinking.

Indeed, cheap clothing often becomes more expensive for the environment also due to its short life cycle; they are difficult to reuse any longer and are more likely to end up as waste quickly. The world’s landfills are hardly filled with high-quality vintage clothing, but mountains of low-quality clothing.

Whichever way I look at it, I always come to the same conclusion: there is no cheap clothes. Let’s choose our clothes wisely.


Also read:

Part 1. More is more

Part 3. Made in the World


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