Most of the clothes we wear nowadays are made from synthetic fabrics. They do contribute to various health effects to cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems, including impacts on cancers and diabetes. Let’s find out more.
Fashion - a Four Time Use Plastic Industry
64% of all clothing worldwide are made from plastic fabrics. Somewhat confusingly they are called "Synthetic" fabrics. Confusingly again these synthetic fabrics carry names ranging from Polyester, Nylon, Acrylic, Spandex, Lycra and many more. And almost everyday we see a fibre producing company giving yet another new name to its newly created plastic fibre, with examples ranging from Spectra, Dyneema, Econyl, Odegon, Zylon, Twaron to name a few. All these new names only make it more confusing for an ordinary human being to know what this fibre/fabric/garment is made of. With increasing awareness about the consequences of plastic to the ecosystems and our health, products with these confusing names get away by not being considered for what they really are - plastic.
Nowadays an average number of times a garment is worn before being thrown away is - four times. That is why at Amberoot we call fashion industry a four time use plastic industry. The trend of more plastic fabrics is expected to grow (hey subsidised cheap oil and gas is so mesmerizing!🤑), consequently naming things as they are is really important in our ability to question whether this is what we want to contribute to when making our purchasing decisions.
Plastic Clothing and Effect on Our Health
At every stage of its lifecycle, plastic poses distinct risks to human health, arising from both exposure to plastic particles themselves and associated chemicals.
Extraction and Transport
Synthetic fabrics are made from fossil fuels. The extraction of oil and gas, particularly hydraulic fracturing for natural gas releases and array of toxic substances into the air and water. Over 170 fracking chemicals are used and have known human health impacts, including cancer, neurological, reproductive and development toxicity, impairment of the immune system and more. These toxins have direct and documented impacts on skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, the respiratory, nervous, and gastrointestinal systems, liver, and brain. The effects of oils spills should also be considered.
Refining and Manufacture
Transforming fossil fuel into plastic resins and additives releases carcinogenic and other highly toxic substances into the air. Documented effects of exposure to these substances include impairment of the nervous system, reproductive and developmental problems, cancer, leukemia and genetic impacts like low birth weight.
Microplastics are shed through friction while wearing clothes and while washing them. According to IUCN fibres washed away from plastic textiles is the largest source for the microplastic pollution in our oceans. Using plastic clothing leads to ingestion and inhalation of large amounts of both microplastic particles and hundreds of toxic substances (POPs, eDCs, heavy metals) with known or suspected carcinogenic, developmental, or endocrine-disrupting impacts. Microplastics entering the human body can lead to an array of health impacts, including inflammation, geno-toxicity, oxidative stress, apoptosis, and necrosis, which are linked to an array of negative health outcomes including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic inflammation, auto-immune conditions, neurodegenerative diseases, and stroke.
All plastic waste management technologies, including incineration (e.g. Burberry), co-incineration, gasification and pyrolysis result in the release of toxic metals, such as lead and mercury, dioxins, furans, acid gases, and other toxic substances to the air, water, and soils. Moreover less than 1% of clothes worldwide are recycled meaning that piles of clothing only keep on accumulating and will pollute the earth for hundreds of years to come.
Should the Future of Fashion Still be Plastic?
Hopefully this article did raise some questions on whether our infatuation with plastic fashion is so fantastic and this is what we should keep on doing. There are plenty of diverse, healthier, more efficient and sustainable alternatives to plastic fashion and all what is needed is a will to use them. You can find out about those in our Biodegradable textile fabrics article series and check Amberoot's Environmental Sustainability Ranking Tool for guidance on most and least environmentally friendly fabrics. You can also checkout our international online shop for men and women specifically focused on selling only clothing from diverse natural (not plastic!) fabrics.
For further information follow Amberoot’s twitter account where various latest findings about plastic pollution are shared and you can read this report "Plastic & Health: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet", authored by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Earthworks, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), IPEN, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.), University of Exeter, and UPSTREAM.
Fashion | Plastic | Fantastic