Millions of people across the globe recently celebrated Clean Up The World Weekend - Sep 16th - 18th. The theme this year was “Our Place. Our Planet. Our Responsibility” that highlighted how local action taken individually by 35 million volunteers can make a positive impact on a global level. Clean Up the World encourages participants to organise an activity on or around the Weekend and to celebrate their environmental successes achieved throughout the year.
Opportunities to get involved are closer than you think. Chances are you are wearing one right now! The textile industry is considered one of the most important consumer goods. It’s essential. We all need clothes - coats to keep us warm and shoes to keep us running. At the same time the textile industry is, perhaps unknowingly to most consumers, one of the most polluting.
With only 15% of textile waste recycled, the majority of people who purchase clothes could begin to take small action, right at home, to improve textile efficiency. As we join the millions of volunteers making a difference in their communities, we’re starting by exploring this year’s theme in relationship to our usage of textiles.
The majority of textile waste comes from households. Every year, North Americans send 12 million tons textiles to the dumps. (This is about 68lbs of waste per person). When you’re shopping for that new weekend frock or replacing last season’s trends, you may begin to wonder how it all adds up. For starters, the average clothing item holds about a 3-year lifespan, which is not including undesirable or “unfashionable” items that might be discarded sooner.
With consumption on the rise, 80 billion pieces of clothing are purchased worldwide, up more than 400% from a decade ago. Industry experts call this phenomenon “Fast Fashion.” Cheaply made clothing is being quickly cranked out by fashion brands, leaving many of our closets stuffed to capacity with clothing that contains a large environmental and social footprint. Farmers and factories are being pushed in the process to meet demands. As a result, genetically modified crops (and high amounts of chemical spraying) are used to reach quotas on farms, while factories are forced to lower costs impacting garments works who often have no say or rights in this situation.
What can you do?
Stylists in the know, like Articles of Style, suggest approaching shopping etiquette with a quality over quantity mindset and sticking to the golden rule of closet cleaning: if you haven’t worn it in 12 months it should find a new home. This is where textile recycling comes in hand. (You can skip ahead to find a drop off bin near you, or continue reading for more suggestions!)
Textile production is an energy intensive process that utilizes fresh materials and creates pollution in the process. From transportation costs to chemicals, the trillion dollar retail and textile industries rack up numerous environmental whammies.
The World Bank estimates that nearly 20% of global industrial water pollution comes from the treatment and dyeing textiles. According to Sustainable Communication, a single cotton t-shirt requires 2700 liters of water and a third of a pound of chemicals to produce. Among toxins, textile manufacturing dyes release known carcinogens into water supplies. On top of that, conventional cotton is dependent on pesticides and herbicides to grow. Additionally, the amount of water used for textile production is competing with increasing daily water requirements of the half billion people living in drought-prone areas of the world. (Sustainable Communication says this number is projected to grow to nearly one-third of the world’s population by 2025.)
Opportunities for textile recycling are on the rise thanks to benefits that are both environmental and economical. Textile recycling saves energy, reduces transportation costs, decreases waste water, and lowers demand for textile chemicals. It also reduces need for landfill space. As mentioned, the process of creating new textiles produces pollution which only continues when we try to dispose of these items. For instance, synthetic fibers do not decompose. And items that do decompose, like woolen garments, can produce toxins such as methane, contributing to global warming in the process.
Next time you even leave the house, you can save water and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by joining textile recyclers (and the nearly 20,000 workers employed within the textile recycling industry) by Cleaning Up the World Within Your Closet!
- Host a “Recycle & Restyle Party” for your friends and family to part ways with extra clothes. Just ask your invited friends to bring a bag of clothing that they would like to swap or upcycle.
- DIY: grab a bag and sweep your closet for items that are no longer useful for you! These are items you no longer use, have outgrown, or simply worn out. When you’re ready, you can check out our drop box locator. We place convenient bins in neighborhood stores, schools and municipalities where you may frequent. If you can’t find a box, please contact us for alternative options!