Buy Old Stuff: Kill Fast Fashion Before it Kills Our Planet

The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries on the planet. Second only to the oil industry, and closely followed by agriculture. Clothes are actually worse than coal. Hectic.

With the onset of “fast fashion,” the price and lifespan of clothing has been dropping severely, while the human and environmental costs have grown exponentially. 

  • Is basically disposable clothing. Fashion Industry creates demand for and constantly churns out massive amounts of cheap clothes, ultimately accelerating carbon emissions and global warming. Many people only wear something once before throwing it away for next week’s style, if it doesn’t fall apart after only a few washes due to it’s poor quality.

We might have our panties in a bunch because Trump doesn’t believe in climate change, but the truth is, those panties are one of the greatest contributors to climate change! From growing textile fibres to moving fabrics around the world, the making of our clothes sadly fuels this global climate crisis.

Before we can shake our finger at others, we should probably point it at ourselves. This article takes a closer look at the fashion industry we buy into and how to alter our individual impact.




Since they are in a bunch and we all own panties or undies of some kind or another, let us imagine the lifespan of a pair. Say your panties began as little cotton plants. Sounds innocent enough, but these are one of the most water consuming and chemical sprayed crops out there! While only 2.4 % of the world’s cropland is planted with cotton, it consumes 10% of all the world’s agricultural chemicals (pesticides) and 25% of all the world’s insecticides! Organic cotton is a step in the right direction, but still is quite water and land intensive, requiring 20-50% more land to produce the same amount of cotton.



If your panties are not made from plants, they are made from OIL. Heavy. So the second most polluting industry has turned to the first biggest polluter to supply it material. Yep; synthetic, man-made fibres while not as water intensive have bad reports from manufacturing pollution and sustainability. Polyester, Acrylic, Nylon, Spandex, and Acetate are all made from nonrenewable fossil fuels, which require a bunch of energy to produce, the process of which is hugely polluting of the air and waterways. It takes 70 million barrels of oil just to produce the virgin polyester used in fabrics each year. 

    For every ton of polyester, manufacturers emit over five tons of CO2. 



Recycled polyester made from discarded plastic bottles is becoming more popular, as it takes less energy to produce and keeps plastic bottles out of landfills. Unfortunately, recycling plastics has never been very economical, hence the US barely recycles 6% of recyclable plastics. Thus there is a tragic gap between the fashion designers demand for recycled fabric and the soda drinker chucking their plastic soda bottle out the window—the plastic ends up as trash before it has a chance to make it to the recycling plant to become your synthetic undies. Hopefully with the new Container Deposit Scheme in NSW there will be more materials available to recycle, and less trash in the world.

Whether it’s virgin plastics or recycled plastics, these textiles are expected not to biodegrade for centuries—if at all. You wear it twice and it lives in the landfill for eons years burping toxins into the air and leaching chemicals into the earth.  



Okay back to your panties. No matter what they are made of, Globalisation has shifted the majority of manufacturing to Asia—where labour is cheap and regulation is slack. So if your panties aren’t already there, they are boarding a ship that burns low-grade bunker fuel 1,000 times dirtier than highway diesel used in the trucking industry and consuming fuel by the TON per hour. A single ship can produce as much cancer and asthma-causing pollutants as 50 million cars in just one year. Not to mention the ships can’t brake for whales and often take out a few on their massive cross-planet journey. Sigh.


China is the leading world producer and supplier of clothing, providing nearly 13 percent of the world’s exports with their labourers making 12-18 cents per hour in hellish conditions.




There, in the dirty factories built in haste to serve new Western demands, your undies get dyed with more chemicals than you can think of. 2,000 different chemicals are used in textile processing, including formaldehyde, chlorine, lead, and mercury. Of these, over 1,600 are used in dyeing, but only 16 are actually EPA-approved. Many of these toxins used to dye your clothing wash into the surrounding environment, but many STAY in our clothes after they are produced and only come out after a few washes. Nonylphenol ethoxylates are banned by the European Union both in their own textile manufacturing and imported textiles, but not banned in the US or AUS. Boycott undies! Commando for life!

    China discharges roughly 40 percent of these chemicals.




The clothing industry is the second largest consumer of water. Specifically, it can take up to 700 gallons of water just to make your cotton undies (thats close to 18 full bathtubs!). More than a half trillion gallons of fresh water are used in the dyeing of textiles each year.  

Most manufacturing plants were set up without much thought about proper waste disposal, so the dye-wastewater is discharged (often untreated) into nearby rivers, that people drink from and depend on. About 40% of colorants used around the world contain organically bound chlorine, a known carcinogen, which can cause cancer just like tobacco, asbestos and DDT. These chemicals flow from the rivers to the lakes to the seas. Large population of humans eat fish from those seas.

We are literally contaminating the water and food we all need for survival. The world is already facing water scarcity. Over a billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water.




AMAZINGLY, 60% of the energy used in the life cycle of your cotton undies is related to the POST-purchase washing and drying at high temperatures. Which means WE have the power to reduce the carbon footprint of our Trump-smearing, finger-pointing panties. In fact, the washing of our clothes was what originally motivated this article...




When you wash your undies--or any of your clothes for that matter--they are agitated, and micro fibres break off and flow down the drain into the water ways. These microscopic threads are ubiquitous near sewage outflows, shorelines, and now scientists (like our dear Byron Mermaid Alice Forrest) are finding them in the fish we eat. Around 1,900 individual fibers can be washed off a single garment. If they are natural, they will eventually biodegrade. However, the synthetic fibers carry chemicals with them into the waterways. Since all plastic has different additives to give it various features such as texture, stretch, durability, or color; they are inherently toxic. Sadly plastic is also absorbent, meaning those tiny out-of-sight fibres absorb any toxins or pollutants they encounter as well. 

Scientists around the world are positing microfibres as the biggest plastic threat to our planet. In fact 1 out of 4 fish sold for human consumption at a Northern California fish market contained plastic inside it’s gut, the majority of which were plastic microfibres from clothing. We can’t see it, we can’t clean it up, and humans are completely oblivious to this tiny terror much less the direct link it has to their "retail therapy."  



Fortunately, there are heaps of beautiful, earth-loving life hacks to set your shopping, dressing, and laundering straight with our resilient Mother Earth. 




  • Buy Vintage! (Second Loves, Trash)
  • Shop at thrift stores / op shops / salvos. Lucky us who live in Byron, where the older your clothes, car, and language is the better you rank in life.
  • Do clothing swaps with your pals. This way if you regret giving away a top, you can always borrow or beg for it back.
  • Host a Seaside Scavenge! This is like a garage sale at the seaside where the currency is trash you've collected in a beach clean! Double awesome. 🌈🌈
  • Be inquisitive when shopping. We all need to wear panties, so inquiring as to where they were manufactured is essential. Opt for organic bamboo, organic dyes, locally made, etc. 
  • Support brands doing it right! (Patagonia, for example, is making wetsuits from 100% sustainably grown Guatemalan rubber trees!)
  • Buy bulk detergent or make your own! (Easy recipe: grated soap, baking soda, essential oils!)
  • Only wash clothes when needed. Save water. Detergent (aka money). Your clothes will last longer. You will use less energy! Less pesky microfibres will sneak down the drain into the oceans into the mouths of your sushi.
  • LINE DRY. This is standard in Australia. If you live in a cold climate, at least vow to line dry in the summer months and give indoor line drying a go in your basement. Line drying for 6 months of the year can eliminate up to 700 pounds of Greenhouse gases a year. 
  • Wash Cold. Heat breaks down fibers, so washing cold saves energy AND helps your clothes last longer. Switching from hot to cold or even warm, you could single handedly prevent 500 lbs of CO2 form entering the atmosphere annually. 
  • Go after the stains by hand. 
  • Freeze your jeans! Denim doesn't need much washing. Put jeans in a (reused) paper bag in the freezer for a day or two to kill bacteria and odors. 
  • Find a Green Dry Cleaner. The primary chemical solvent used in dry-cleaning, perchloroethylene (or perc), is a toxic chemical capable of causing liver damage and respiratory failure. It can also lead to groundwater contamination and air pollution. Most “green” services use water as the primary solvent, but be sure to inquire!
  • Donate to Salvation Army or Dress for Success (a non-profit organization that provides interview suits and career development for low-income women) 
  • Reformation has launched RefRecycling to recycle all of your old clothes. Print a label, slap on a box, send it off, and track your shipment to see where your old stuff ends up and the positive impact you have made!