Fashion X Food: From common environmental impacts to disruptive solutions

There are many ways how we impact the environment with our current lifestyle. The negative impacts of flying or the use of single-use plastics are well known by now, but when it comes to fashion or food, the exact impacts are not clear yet.

The fashion industry is known to be one of the most polluting industries in the world. And the food industry ranks about the same. One aspect that is driving the negative impacts is shared between them: Everything must be available at all times.

Buying clothes around the clock has never been so easy. Today customers have so many choices available at any given time and the consumption rate has increased in both, the fashion and food industries. It’s a fast and “throwaway” consumption behavior that generates large environmental impacts on an unprecedented level. 

The real impacts

Photo by @dietitian.mama on Unsplash.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food accounts for 26% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Fashion on the other side emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

It’s clear. Both industries pollute the atmosphere.

And remember, fashion and food come from the same source: crops. Today, half of the world’s habitable land¹ is used for agriculture, e.g. to produce cotton fabrics or avocados for our salads.

The intensive crop agriculture, is contributing to another factor, the hydric footprint.

Today 70% of global freshwater withdrawals are used for agriculture², so you probably heard of the Aral Sea hazard. In the ’60s the Aral Sea region in Uzbekistan was extensively used for cotton production. The cotton farming used so much water that this region was rapidly transformed into a desert. One of the world’s largest lakes was dried for the production of jeans and cotton fabric.³ 

Food also demands liters of water to arrive at our plates as we are used to it. One simple example is one of the most hyped salad ingredients: the avocado. This fruit requires a lot of water to grow, on average, to produce a kilogram of avocado in average 283 liters of water are needed.⁴ Some avocados species require 320 liters per unit.

Most avocados come from Chile, and the water used to produce them is fresh groundwater. Using all of those resources may cause desertification. The immense appetite for food and fashion is nowadays indirectly contributing to desertification, illegal deforestation and environmental degradation.⁵

Fashion and food waste

Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on Unsplash

Every year around the globe, 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted, which is the equivalent of 1/3 of all food produced for human consumption according to the FAO.⁶ Food waste contributes to a major depletion of resources including water, land, energy, and labor. Besides the economical impact, of course.

Fashion shapes a similar case. Nearly three-fifths of all clothing produced ends up in incinerators or landfills within years of being made.⁷ It’s estimated that only 1% of all fashion waste is indeed recycled per year, on a worldwide scale.⁸

To process, all these combined waste greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change are produced at an absurd scale. 

It’s very clear now, that this system has to be rethought from the ground up.

There is hope

The industry is starting to change. New entrepreneurs are thinking about the solution to problems and enterprises that want to tackle those problems differently are starting to emerge. From food to clothes, both industries are starting to be equipped with solutions for environmental change.

The English enterprise Rubies in the Rubble is a great example of how to tackle food waste. The company produces sauces and jams made of fruits and vegetables that would be discarded otherwise.

Besides the production of sauce, the shelf life of vegetables and fruits can be extended to up to 3 years. A great way to change the vision that we have of our left-overs.

Source: rubiesintherubble.com

On the fashion side, the brand Tonlé represents a revolutionary change for the industry. The brand produces clothes only made of pieces from textile waste. The brand designers collect textile waste in Cambodia where remnant textiles are often cast-aside by large brands. 

The zero-waste brand then designs new pieces of clothing with this material. The small amount of waste generated by the brand is then turned into their homemade paper. 

Wearing your food 

What happens if we mix fashion and food while trying to be sustainable at the same time? It seems too much, but several fashion designers are realizing that both subjects can be mixed in order to create sustainable and better solutions for food, fashion, and waste issues.

The project Fruit Leather Rotterdam is transforming fruits leftovers into durable leather for example. This does not only make use of the waste, but it also saves animals from being slaughters for the sake of leather or other animal textiles creation processes.

Ideas such as this one are sustainable because they mitigate climate change and give a final and noble purpose for waste.

This next project solves one of the biggest problems in the city of Rotterdam: food waste. Everyday outdoor markets throw away 3,500 kilos of unsellable fruits and vegetables. This waste is often unappropriated for eating but can still be used to create other materials, such as vegan leather.

Bag made of apple’s waste of Rotterdan. Source:  Fruit Leather Rotterdam 

Another Italian company called Orange Fiber is creating elegant and innovative textile materials from oranges. In Italy, more than 700.000 tons of citrus waste are produced per year and no sustainable option for disposal is available. 

Aware of the problem, the company saw the potential on citrus and created a way to use the citrus juice by-products that would be thrown away to produce sustainable textiles.

The idea is to create a new life for those materials, transforming waste into refined and high-quality fabrics that can be used in fashion. 

Sustainable fabric made of citrus waste. Source: Orange Fiber

Innovative ideas are in place to show that there’s space for a sustainable future.

Tell us in the comments, what’s your sustainable idea for the planet?

Sources:

1https://ourworldindata.org/land-use#breakdown-of-global-land-use-today

https://www.businessinsider.com/fast-fashion-environmental-impact-pollution-emissions-waste-water-2019-10
https://www.businessinsider.sg/fast-fashion-environmental-impact-pollution-emissions-waste-water-2019-10

2https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food#note-2 

3https://www.businessinsider.com/fast-fashion-environmental-impact-pollution-emissions-waste-water-2019-10#in-uzbekistan-for-example-cotton-farming-used-up-so-much-water-from-the-aral-sea-that-it-dried-up-after-about-50-years-once-one-of-the-worlds-four-largest-lakes-the-aral-sea-is-now-little-more-than-desert-and-a-few-small-ponds-18

4 https://old.danwatch.dk/en/undersogelseskapitel/how-much-water-does-it-take-to-grow-an-avocado/

5 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/12/hispters-handle-unpalatable-truth-avocado-toast

6 http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/infographic/en/

7 https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2020/1/27/21080107/fashion-environment-facts-statistics-impact

8 https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/A-New-Textiles-Economy.pdf

Ana Vitória De Magalhães
Ana Vitoria is a Brazilian living in Lisbon, environmental activist and idealist of Ocean Immersion Program and Mais Planeta Blog. She is today writer for Uptous Magazine and advocates defending ocean protection, the transition to a circular economy and new business models that can ensure sustainable development, social equity and female empowerment.