Recently we’ve been talking a lot about the waste problem in China, and today we will focus on the textile waste because latest report in China shows that at least 26 million tons of textile waste ends up in landfills each year. If you are an environmentally conscious fashionista, you probably give away your past favorites to charity, or you take them to clothes swapping events in your town, or you might drop them off at fashion retailers collection boxes or designated points in your local community. But is that enough?
You may know about the environmental benefits of textile recycling: it saves virgin fibers, reduces consumption of energy and water, and avoids piling up waste in landfills (latest report in China shows that at least 26 million tons of textile waste ends up in landfills each year).
From a manufacturing perspective, recycling alone definitely can’t lift the weight of textile waste. To start with, sorting out different garments is difficult. Modern-day clothing constitutes a range of mixes, including synthetic?fibers?such as nylon and polyester, which are essentially a type of plastic that requires different processing methods compared to natural materials like cotton, wool or linen. In terms of financial incentive, synthetic?fibers?unsurprisingly aren’t as valuable as cotton or wool, which is why they are often overlooked.?In order to transform an old piece of cloth to?new?it has to be shredded into small pieces and turned into raw?fibers. Mechanical shredding reduces the staple length of the?fibers, which is the key attribute to determine textile strength and softness. As a result, these shredded?fibers?degrade in quality, and are usually used for making kitchen cloths, rugs, car insulations or seat fillings, etc, which is commonly referred to as ‘downcycling’ or ‘cascading’. ?Furthermore, textile recycling also uses large quantities of additives and stabilizers that are used to treat textiles, which then enter the environment through wastewater.
In 2013, customers of H&M started seeing recycling boxes at its 3,800 stores worldwide. Between then and November 2016, it is said to have collected almost 39,000 tons of garments, which appears to be a significant amount compared to its production size. The Guardian calculated and published that H&M is capable of pumping out 1,000 tons clothes in 2 days, but processing that much amount of waste would take 12 years!
H&M launched its first World Recycle Week in May 2016 featuring pop star M.I.A, in which it claims: “95% of textiles thrown away worldwide could get a second life”, but it failed to mention how few textiles did get a second life in?general?context or within their own practice.?However, Greenpeace, in a press release for their Detox My Fashion campaign, commented that only 1% of collected clothing can be used as recycled?fibers.
As mentioned above, textile recycling usually uses degraded materials, which means the process involves ‘down cycling’, and only small percentage of collected clothes can be used as recycled fibers. The aim of this article is not to discourage you from donating your unwanted clothes, but to address the problem at source – curb the over-buying. ?The next time you see that shirt or dress on sale through the glass window, think whether it would end up becoming another ‘extra’ piece in your closet, and/or if you want to go into the store just because of the sale.? Spending more time on making smart choices (read both price tag and material tag) will not only help you to reduce your cost of living, it is also helping the environment by creating a solution that recycling never could.?Recycling is not a solution – it is simply the last resort.