Skip to content (press enter)


Plastic Pollution Initiative Update: The Forever Effects of Fast Fashion

What's the problem with fast fashion?

The fashion industry has a huge impact not only on popular culture, but on the environment, from how clothes are made to where they go when consumers are done with them. About 60% of clothing materials comes from plastic synthetic fabrics, including polyester, acrylic and nylon textiles. Every time they're washed, these plastic fabrics shed tiny microfibers, a form of microplastics. As far back as 2019, scientists deduced that the hundreds of thousands of fibers that make up our clothing were responsible for an estimated 9% of microplastic losses into our oceans.

Additionally, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the fashion industry consumes 86 million Olympic-sized swimming pools of natural water resources, while generating 2-8% of the world’s global greenhouse gas emissions. The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined, with the equivalent of one garbage truck of clothes being burned or landfilled every second. Fashion requires an extraordinary amount of water – for example,  2,000 gallons of water to make a single pair of jeans – and textile dyeing is the world’s second largest source of water pollution.

Those are just the issues with producing clothes. When consumers are done with those jeans, blouses, jackets, and other clothing items, they often chose to donate them – but those "donations" are often shipped to Africa where they destroy local textile businesses, or wind up in the Chilean desert in a pile so large it can be viewed from space, or still end up in the landfill.

Buy Less, Choose Well, Make it Last 

Well aware of all this, the Olympia Chapter in Washington hosted their 2nd annual Clothing Swap as a way to raise awareness about the devastating impacts fast fashion has on water quality, human welfare, and the climate, as well as providing an opportunity for the folks to update their wardrobes without breaking the bank.


In the words of Christine Rayburn, the Olympia Chapter's Chair and lead organizer for this event, "Let's us focus on loving what we have, buying less, buying better, mending, altering, and swapping. Let’s rid ourselves of the fashion industry’s push to make us be ‘on trend’ or ‘in fashion’ and instead focus on what makes us each unique in how we present ourselves, brings us joy in what we wear and supports small designers & brands working to be transparent, mindful and more sustainable."

Textile Responsibility in California

In related news in California, state Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) has introduced a bill to address the escalating problem of textile waste and its ensuing environmental damage. SB 707 would establish an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program for apparel and textiles under the regulatory authority of the Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). Under the provisions of SB 707, producers of apparel and textile products would be responsible for implementing and funding programmatic plans that would facilitate the repair and reuse of clothing and the recycling of textile fibers.

Recommended reading

Along with being a medical device engineer, Surfrider boardmember Olivia Angus is a clean water activist and blogger dedicated to helping others reduce their plastic footprint. Check out her post on "How to Create a Capsule Wardrobe" for inspiration on minimizing your own participation in fast fashion harm.