Consider this: In 2013, Americans alone discarded 15.1 million tons of clothing and other textiles, and 85 % of that wound up in landfills.
According to the Bureau of International Recycling Textiles Division, worldwide, more than 60 % of clothes can be reused, and another 35 % are recycled into wiping rags or are converted into basic fibres and made into new products. This leaves less than 5 % that must be discarded.
Consumers of fast-fashion often remain far removed from the way their clothes are produced and unaware of workers’ rights, supply chain transparency, material sourcing, sustainable development and ethical business practices.
While tonnes of textile, produced using virgin natural resources at various stages of its lifecycle, ends up in landfills, the industry and consumers “work” everyday to produce more textiles, tapping again into limited resources like water, coal and oil.
Why We Should Recycle ?
EXCESS WATER CONSUMPTION AND POLLUTION
Various parts of the textile lifecycle waste and contaminate our precious resource: water. For example, cotton harvesting alone employs extremely detrimental processes. Cotton is known to be one of the most water consuming plants. Whats’s worse, the production processes is heavily pesticide and water dependent. This means the huge amount of water used in the process is contaminated with pesticides. This goes on to pollute groundwater and get into water-ways that harm marine life, farm animals, farmers and, ultimately, all of us. Recycling helps us curb this vicious cycle and use our resources to their fullest.
Fast fashion boasts 52 micro seasons a year! This means new clothes are produced every week! Can we really consume so many clothes even if we buy them? More production means more pollution and that to for items we simply don’t have enough time on earth to use.
ENVIRONMENTALLY HARMFUL PRODUCTION
There are 8000 chemicals used in textile production for processes such as pesticide prevention and dyeing. Through unregulated discarding processes, these chemicals end up in our soil, water and air!
WASTEFUL USE OF REAL ESTATE
4 % of global landfills are filled with textile waste. This is approximately 3/4 the size of Australia! These discarded items cannot decompose as they are laced in chemicals. They slowly degrade in emitting greenhouse gases that cause global warming. 99% of these discarded textiles can be recycled in some way or form.
To keep up with fast fashions demands on low prices and quick turn around time, workers are exploited. They are paid less than minimum wages, made to work in inhumane work conditions and for very long hours.
Fibre is produced in country a, products are manufactured in countries b and/or c and sold in country d. This is the typical shipping flow of a fashion item from fibre to retail. A single ship can produce as much cancer and asthma-causing pollutants as 50 million cars in just one year. Recycling can help us reduce this health hazard.
Why Aren’t We Recycling Enough?
Recycling itself costs resources at industrial scale. While scientific research and innovation are working on better recycling methods and environmentally friendly textile production continues, we are discarding at an unprecedented rate creating mountains of waste – literally.
Disposal of textile waste is fraught with unaware consumers on the one hand. On the other, retailers are focusing on price over quality restocking every week.
Technology and globalisation have made it possible for the textile industry to manufacture at large scale and low cost. But just because it’s possible doesn’t mean we should be doing it. And who is to decide that we shouldn’t?
We aren’t recycling enough because we need to take a collective stand- as consumers, brands, retailers, designers, manufacturers and governments. This is a solvable issue, but only if we all work together.
So, what can you do to support mindful use and recycling of textile?