Colossal Environmental Damage Caused by Discarded Fabrics

Within the modern context of consumerism, the demands of the textile industry have increased dramatically. With so many fashionable choices, it’s no wonder we consume more than our fair share! As “fast fashion” weighs heavier on shopper’s bank balances, it’s far more expensive for our environment!

Little thought is given to what happens to our clothes and linen post consumption. We often get rid of our fabrics by throwing them into the trash, just to make room for the next new designer ‘look’ in our wardrobe or linen closets. Even though perfectly capable of being recycled, 85% of this clothing still lies in 4% of the world’s landfills!1

A Look at What Happens After Textiles Arrive at The Dump

When fabrics go to the landfill, they cannot decompose owing to the amount of chemicals used in the textile production process. Fabrics that are made up of resilient synthetic fibers also do no biodegrade easily2.

Whilst these fabrics silently reside in landfills, they’re not altogether harmless. During the slow degradation of fabrics, they release approximately 3-4 times their mass in methane3.

Fabrics that are thrown out are also commonly subject to incineration, a process of burning trash due to limited space in the landfills. The pollution from this method of waste disposal is unfathomably high4.

The Effects on the Environment

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Ultimately, the biggest textile waste problems we face are the emission of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Greenhouse gases damage our ozone layer and propagate respiratory and health problems4.

Methane gets released from fabrics that are starting to decompose in landfills. This can take many years to complete, and thus methane continues to be released 5 into our atmosphere.

Aside from contributing to climate change, methane accumulation over landfill sites is a major explosive and fire hazard6!

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is another greenhouse gas that originates from textile incineration processes. CO2 emissions contribute to global warming as well as acid rain (discussed below). Research has shown that CO2 is also a powerful carcinogen, resulting in cancer, cardiac or respiratory problems, to say the least7.

Toxic Ground Water & Acid Rain

When materials are not biodegradable and they get rained upon for years, they produce toxic ground water. It becomes toxic from the accumulation of chemicals that run out from the fabrics into the soil. This toxic ground water runs-off into other soil, destroying the natural ecology within the soil and diminishing fertility5.

The effects are worse if this water sits on top of the ground. After being evaporated, the chemicals can still be found present inside rain clouds and this results in acid rain!8 Acid rain can be viewed as mobile toxic groundwater that then rains back down, repeating the same soil damages over a larger surface area.

Fish and other marine wildlife are immediately affected, as these chemicals change the pH balance of water. Wildlife is affected when animals drink this water, causing health issues as well as death with the potential for extinction in certain species.

How You Can Make a Difference ?

There are things we can definitely do to help our planet along. Thrift stores, auctions and recycling your clothing are great ways to reduce the load off of dump sites. Every single kilogram of clothing you pass down, save, rebuy, re-use or recycle will prevent 3-4kg of greenhouse gasses polluting the air we breath!4

References:

  1. http://www.recycleforchange.org/archive/the-environmental-impacts-of-textile-recycling
  2. http://source.ethicalfashionforum.com/article/fashions-carbon-footprint
  3. http://www.planetaid.org/what-we-do/for-the-environment/recycling-textiles
  4. http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/human-footprint/trash-talk.html
  5. https://ethesis.grad.chula.ac.th/file/54/23/5472110023/publication/5472110023_1418806622.pdf
  6. http://apps.sepa.org.uk/spripa/Pages/SubstanceInformation.aspx?pid=65
  7. http://www.co2science.org/subject/h/summaries/healtheffectsco2.php
  8. https://www.epa.gov/acidrain/what-acid-rain

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