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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

WashU: Fast Fashion an Environmental, Health Hazard

The overabundance of fast fashion — readily available, inexpensively made clothing — has created an environmental health crisis, according to a new paper from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

“From the growth of water-intensive cotton, to the release of untreated dyes into local water sources, to worker’s low wages and poor working conditions, the environmental and social costs involved in textile manufacturing are widespread,” said Dr. Christine Ekenga, assistant professor at the Brown School and co-author of the paper, published Dec. 27 in the journal Environmental Health.

“This is a massive problem,” Dr. Ekenga said. “The disproportionate environmental and social impacts of fast fashion warrant its classification as an issue of global environmental injustice.”

In the paper, Dr. Ekenga and her co-authors — Ms. Rachel Bick, MPH ’18, and Ms. Erika Halsey, MPH ’18 — assert that negative consequences at each step of the fast-fashion supply chain have created a global health problem.

“While fast fashion offers consumers an opportunity to buy more clothes for less, those who work in or live near textile manufacturing facilities bear a disproportionate burden of environmental health hazards,” they wrote.

“Furthermore, increased consumption patterns have created millions of tons of textile waste in landfills and unregulated settings. This is particularly applicable to low- and middle-income countries, as much of this waste ends up in second-hand clothing markets. These countries often lack the supports and resources necessary to develop and enforce environmental and occupational safeguards to protect human health.”

The paper also addresses potential solutions, including sustainable fibers, corporate sustainability, trade policy and the role of the consumer.

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[Photo: Dr. Christine Ekenga]