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Toxic Clothing and the Environment

It seems like everywhere you look today there’s always a story about the long term effects of all sorts of toxins in our modern age. Whether it be rising concerns about microplastics, the impact of environmental pollutants, or even the ways people get to and from work, everyone is looking to reduce their personal carbon footprint and live a healthier, more environmentally-friendly  lifestyle. 

However, in this new found concern for personal health and wellness there may be one industry that people overlook–clothing manufacturing. That’s right, the clothes we wear not only tend to be infused with toxic chemicals and heavy metals but also leave a devastating impact on the environment.   

The best way to illustrate how toxic chemicals impact us is by using everything we know about our industry in combination with trusted research to show you how these practices affect you and your environment.

woman buried in clothes pile
Photo by Ron Lach.

Xylene: The Hidden Danger of Polyester Blends

One of the most common blends for clothing and swimwear, polyester blends are synthetic fibers. One of the main compounds used is xylene. Xylene is used as a key component in the process to make polyester blends. However, this becomes trapped within the fabrics of clothes produced this way. 

As noted in a report by the Royal College of Pathologists of Australia, the effects of prolonged Xylene exposure includes “anemia, chest pain, dyspnea and cyanosis, in addition to CNS symptoms.” The study continues showing an increased chance at developing lung cancer and changes in “liver size, liver enzymes, auditory memory, and visual abstraction.”

This same report also highlights how easily xylene can be absorbed by the body. The report notes that xylene vapors as well as liquids containing xylene are “absorbed rapidly from the lungs” and “absorbed slowly through the skin.”

The implications of this research are shocking, especially when it comes to swimwear. Swimming, sunbathing, and anything else you’d do with these fabrics gives xylene and other highly toxic compounds a direct path into your system.   

Nylon & Benzene & Ammonium, Oh My! 

Nylon blends are the next most common type of blends. This blend is commonly used in fashionable swimwear. Nylon blends undergo a similar process to polyester blends which leaves its own brand of toxic chemicals trapped inside the fibers.The two main compounds of this chemical cocktail are benzene and ammonium sulfate. 

Benzene, a known cancer-causing substance, is defined by the American Cancer Society as “...a colorless, flammable liquid with a sweet odor…” with “the capability of causing cancers like leukemia.” The dangers of benzene were also collaborated by a report in the Annual Review which concluded that exposure to benzene can lead to multiple alterations that contribute to the development of leukemia. 

The other toxic chemical in nylon blends is ammonium sulfate. This compound as outlined by PubChem is both an irritant and environmental hazard. Ammonium sulfate exposure can cause skin irritation, acute toxicity, and eye irritation. Again, like polyester blends, this synthetic fabric provides a one-way ticket for highly toxic chemicals to enter your body and damage your immune system.

clothes on hangers
Photo by Markus Winkler.

Fast and Loose Fashion

While the presence of these toxic chemicals affect us on an individual level, the actions of clothing brands extend far beyond. The impact of this industry not only hurts you as an individual, they hurt the environment just as much, if not even more so. One of the key factors in the fashion industry’s impact on our environment's health is the rise of fast fashion and fast fashion brands.

While many people haven’t heard of the term fast fashion, many people have experienced it in some form or another. The best example of fast fashion would be seasonal clothes you see in large retail chains. 

These collections of clothing are cheaply made and mass produced. They’re rushed to the market and quickly replaced by the time a new collection or another season has passed. Practices like these cause an already existing problem to be magnified and the impacts of the industry to be escalated to an extreme degree. 

Sustain Your Style Research on Textile Waste

Sustain Your Style, an organization dedicated to informing and educating the larger population about the environmental impact of the fashion industry, has gathered information that is both shocking and enlightening on this subject. 

Their research suggested that in terms of fabrics, “52% of our clothes contain polyester” with the average person in the United States producing “35kg of textile waste“ every year. That’s 18.2kg or 40lbs of polyester textile waste produced by one person every year. These facts, along with other research by the same group, illustrate the impact that the action of the fashion industry has not only on people but on our environment. 

Deeper Dive into Sustain Your Style Research 

The Sustain Your Style research also includes other shocking facts, such as how “20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile treatment and dyes” as well as “23% of all chemicals produced worldwide are used for the textile industry.” 

These chemicals cover all stages of the clothing manufacturing process. Everything from pesticides to protect crops to many of the hazardous and toxic chemicals used in creating the fabric blends discussed above.

For many of us, learning that roughly one fifth of the pollution being pumped into our oceans is coming from our own industry was quite shocking. Not to mention how according to this same research, “5.2% of the waste in our landfills are textiles,” that roughly five percent of every landfill on the planet is filled by our industry.  

The Heart of The Matter

When it comes to showing the impact that these types of industry practices can have on our environment, information that proves without a doubt that they’re hurting our planet is key. However, these types of rebuttals often seem to fall flat in our modern day and age. Sometimes even having the facts and being objectively correct isn't enough to sway opinions, as odd as that sounds.

So, the best way to truly show how these facts relate back to the listed impacts on the environment is to paint a mental picture. Try to paint a mental picture with what we’ve learned about fast fashion, about the toxic chemicals in our clothes, and about everything we know about the clothing industry. One where everything comes together to show just how destructive and dangerous the practices can be when they’re left unchecked. 

landfill
Photo by Tom Fisk.

Picture This…

Imagine this: Out there, somewhere, is a landfill filled to the brim with hundreds, even thousands of pieces of toxic clothing. Over half of these discarded clothes are made of the worst possible fabric blend, polyester. Just creating those pieces of clothing has already left an impact on the environment, but now it creates a whole new negative impact as it lies there in the landfill.

All the chemicals used in clothing treatment like flame retardants, stain resistance, dyes, and all the toxic chemicals mentioned in the paragraphs above start seeping into the soil. The chemicals damage the soil. This slowly poisons the plants at their roots. 

Exposing wildlife to benzene, xylene, and ammonium sulfate causes damage to the fragile balance of their ecosystem as they breath in the vapors and drink the tainted water. All that damage just from the summer collection. With fall coming a whole new collection of cheaply made shirts and long sleeves are pushed onto the sales floor and the cycle begins again.   

the sun rising or setting over the sea with a heart drawn in the sand.
Photo by Pixabay.

Going Forward.

With all of that being said, what does this mean for BeachCandy going forward? Like many of you, learning about the ways that our industry, its practices, and the environmental impacts of those practices affect the planet and our own health have inspired all of us here at BeachCandy to improve. 

We strive to not only reduce our impact on the environment, but to become the leader in the field of natural clothing, leading the industry into a cleaner tomorrow. We here at BeachCandy want to make a promise to you. We are in the early stage of searching for more sustainable fabrics, blends, and dyes, but we promise that we are taking the first steps to creating a more sustainable world for not only ourselves but you. 

We hope to bring you more updates about our journey and hearing from you about how we can improve together.       

Also read: Are Seed Oils Bad for You?

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Shop Sustainable Swimwear for Women

Written by Nicholas Viveros

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