Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Why fashion industry’s ‘recycling’ methods are not saving the planet?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Emissions from Fashion Industry



  • From fast-fashion giants to luxury brands, many have embraced recycled fabrics and eco-friendly messaging as part of their marketing strategies.
  • However, a closer look reveals that these recycling methods often fall short of delivering meaningful environmental benefits.

Challenges in Fashion Industry Recycling

[1] Greenhouse Gas Emissions:

  • Polyester, a ubiquitous fabric, contributes substantially to emissions, with 28.2 million tonnes used in 2016 alone, emitting nearly triple the CO2 compared to cotton.
  • Nylon production generates nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, exacerbating climate change.

[2] Water Intensity:

  • Cotton cultivation, vital for clothing production, consumes vast amounts of water, with estimates suggesting up to 20,000 liters required for a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.
  • Predictions indicate potential water crises by 2030 due to escalating water consumption in clothing production.

[3] Water Pollution:

  • Chemical dyeing, essential for vibrant textiles, ranks as the second-largest polluter of clean water globally, introducing harmful substances into waterways.
  • Cotton cultivation’s heavy reliance on chemicals poses health risks and environmental degradation.

[4] Plastics and Microfibers:

  • Polyester clothing sheds microfibers during washing, contaminating oceans and endangering marine life, with significant quantities entering waterways annually.
  • Non-biodegradable microfibers pose risks to human health and ecosystems, persisting in the environment indefinitely.

[5] Landfill Waste:

  • The fashion industry contributes substantially to landfill waste, with discarded clothing doubling over the past two decades due to fast fashion trends.
  • Limited textile recycling exacerbates the landfill problem, with less than 1% of clothing material being reused.

[6] Inability to Recycle:

  • Complex fabric blends and non-biodegradable materials like polyester and nylon present challenges to recycling technologies, hindering effective reuse.
  • China’s ban on recycled textile imports exacerbates recycling issues, limiting disposal options.

[7] Economic and Ethical Considerations:

  • Economic incentives often prioritize short-term profits over sustainability, perpetuating greenwashing tactics and undermining genuine recycling efforts.
  • Unethical labor practices compound sustainability challenges, highlighting systemic issues in the fashion industry’s supply chain.

Methods for Recycling

  • Mechanical recycling: It breaks down textiles into fibers without altering their chemical composition, suitable for natural fibers like cotton.
  • Chemical recycling: It breaks down textiles into basic chemical components, ideal for synthetic fibers like polyester.
  • Steps involved: Both methods involve sorting, shredding, cleaning, processing, and quality control to produce new fabrics or products, reducing waste in the fashion industry.

Moving Towards True Sustainability

  • Research and Development: Invest in innovative recycling technologies capable of processing complex fabric blends.
  • Transparency and Standards: Implement transparent supply chains and rigorous recycling standards to ensure accountability.
  • Consumer Education: Educate consumers about the true environmental and ethical impact of their clothing choices.
  • Regulation and Accountability: Enforce regulations and industry standards to hold fashion brands accountable for sustainability commitments.
  • Circular Economy Promotion: Embrace circular economy principles, such as extended producer responsibility and product lifecycle management, to minimize waste and resource consumption.


  • While recycling initiatives in the fashion industry offer some benefits, they fall short of addressing the sector’s overarching environmental and ethical challenges.
  • Achieving true sustainability demands systemic changes, including technological innovation, transparent practices, consumer awareness, regulatory enforcement, and circular economy promotion.
  • By embracing these principles, the fashion industry can pave the way towards a genuinely sustainable and equitable future.

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join us across Social Media platforms.

💥Mentorship New Batch Launch
💥Mentorship New Batch Launch