In this day and age, it is impossible not to stumble upon websites boasting extremely low-priced and trendy clothing. However, despite the seemingly good deals, that $10 shirt isn’t really worth it. At each stage of that particular item of the clothes’ life cycle, it harms our environment, our oceans, and in turn, our Sharks (not to mention the various social justice issues associated with the industry).
Most clothing items sold in the fast-fashion industry are made out of cheap materials such as polyester. The process of forming enough of this material for one clothing item requires over 700 gallons of water. It takes 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton shirt, and the production of 1 pair of jeans releases as much greenhouse gas as driving a car for more than 80 miles. This explains why fashion production is responsible for up to 10% of our global greenhouse gas emissions. But that is not all.
After production, most items are moved internationally on ships or planes and then delivered to your door by cars and trucks, causing significant harm to our environment along their way through not just emissions. Cargo vessel traffic in our oceans has increased almost four times in the last 20 years ago and with that, we have seen a rise in noise pollution, physical pollutants, and vessel collisions. Currently at the Bimini SharkLab, PI Clemency White is studying the effect of anthropogenic noise on Lemon Sharks in Bimini, but there is sufficient evidence that noise is very important to many marine species including sharks whether it’s for communication, locating viable prey, or habitat selection. For larger slow moving sharks such as Basking Sharks and Whale Sharks, vessel collisions pose a threat to struggling populations.
When that shirt finally arrives on your doorstep its effects on the environment don’t stop.
Each time we wash our clothes they release microfibers that make their way into our waterways and into our oceans. The cheaper the material, the more microfibers it releases. A 13-pound load of laundry can release over half a million fibers, more than 64,000 of these likely ending up in our oceans. These fibers are then consumed by marine animals and accumulate at the top of the food chain, which is sometimes us! After just one wash, you could one day find yourself eating sushi, unknowingly consuming plastic particles from that very same shirt. A study done by Kristian Parton at the University of Exeter found that over 2/3rds of the 46 Demersal sharks they examined had microplastics and fibers in their bodies, a majority of which were blue fibers from clothing and fishing nets.
Predictably, these cheaper materials do not last as long as their more expensive counterparts. This leads to a significant amount of clothing ending up in landfills on the off chance that it doesn’t get spilled into our oceans by mistake where it joins the several tons of plastic humans have already spilled into the ocean in one of the many garbage patches found around the globe. On average, one garbage truckload of clothing is burned every second, releasing toxins into our atmosphere.
So, what should you do instead of buying that $10 shirt?
I am not suggesting that we all walk around naked (unless nudism is your thing). Although, there are steps we can take to reduce the impacts our clothes have on our oceans.
(Do it for the Sharks!)
1. Shop Less.
Chances are you didn’t need that shirt in the first place and had it been more expensive, to begin with, you wouldn’t have bought it. As we’ve all seen by the resurgence of high-waisted jeans, fashion trends come and go, so chances are that your outdated clothes will come back into style soon enough. And if you really hate the thought of wearing certain items again, dispose of them responsibly. Donate your clothing or sell it to a thrift store so it can continue to be used. Alternatively, you can by turning it into a kitchen rag or recycle the material so it can be used to make new clothing.
2. Buy second-hand, thrift, or even rent your clothes.
Check out your local thrift store or the attic in your grandmother’s house. You can also subscribe to companies like Rent the Runway for anything from casual outings to formal events.
3. Wash your clothes less, and embrace the clothesline.
I know, this sounds gross, but many people wash their clothing after one wear, and unless you were rolling around in mud all day you’re probably not that dirty. Ask anyone at Shark Lab, you can make your clothes last longer between washes if you try. If your clothing really needs a wash, use more lint filters to prevent some non-biodegradable materials from entering the ocean. And while you’re at it, try to hang drying clothes as much as possible! (if you need inspiration look no further than our very own clothesline at the Lab!)
4. Pick your materials carefully.
Look for bio-synthetic alternatives such as lyocell, Polylactic acid fiber (PLA), vegan leather, and casein fibers. Or you can opt for items made from hemp, bamboo, linen, and organic cotton. Not only will these materials last longer, but they will significantly reduce your carbon footprint and will not release non-biodegradable microfibers into our oceans. Those $10 t-shirts usually fall apart after a few washes anyway, so you probably spend more money replacing them than if you had bought a pricier shirt to start. You can also look for clothing made from ocean plastic like a brand commonly seen around the Lab called Waterlust! (they also donate money to conservation and research efforts so its a double whammy).
5. Shop local.
By shopping locally you are supporting small businesses that use more sustainable production methods and you are eliminating the impacts of distributing goods from across the globe. Supporting local businesses can also help improve your local economy and provide stable jobs for people in your own community.
6. Shop for a Cause!
Fashion is yet another opportunity to put our money where our mouth is and actively support organizations that are working to protect our environment. This way even if they are using less sustainable materials, the proceeds will go to protecting the environment from other sources of degradation, and contribute to important research and conservation work like here at the Shark Lab.
These are just a few ways in which we can reduce the impacts of our clothing on the environment and the Sharks we know and love. It is our job as consumers to consider the impacts of the products we buy and make the necessary changes to reduce harm whenever possible. The fashion industry is one where consumers have a great deal of power to make change simply by changing the way we shop.
[Photo: Chelle Blais]