Take a moment to think of the clothes, threads, and other forms of ‘swag’ hanging in your closet and sitting on your shelves.
What are those items that you pass over every time you pick out an outfit? If that question does not apply, then I seriously envy you. But maybe, there’s a shirt or two that you picked out for an occasion that’s never going to happen, or a style that just isn’t meant to be. When you realize this, please refrain from sending your clothes to the dump
I repeat, please refrain from sending your clothes to the dump
Human related activity, like the transformation of the earth for things like our lovely parking lots and garbage dumps and so on, is causing the earth to reach its next environmental tipping point (see: the ice age) at an ever increasing rate. Needing to find more space for our textile waste means destroying more vegetation and wildlife, further pushing our ecosystem away from its natural balance. North Americans account for 10.5 million tons of textiles that end up in the dump each year ; a fact that can be found on the website of Value Village, a major thrift store chain. We as consumers need to take responsibility for what we choose to put in the garbage.
Fortunately, in cities like Guelph, Toronto, and Markham (all located in the Canadian province of Ontario), their municipal governments are setting up drop-off centers to help direct our clothes away from landfills and to organizations like the Canadian Diabetes Association. Searching “textile recycling in [your city]” in an online search engine will help you find out what your city is or isn’t doing to help this cause. Going to the Canadian Diabetes Association website, you can fill out an online form to have your donations picked up at your own home. On one hand, human activity has caused textile waste to grow to millions of tons, and on the other, human activity is also what’s going to put a stop to this.
When we recycle, repurpose, reuse, and repair our fabrics and materials, when we do all of these “re-” things instead of discarding, we also slow down other dangerous types of waste: the ones involved in production. The textile industry alone uses 9 trillion litres of water a year in treating different fabrics. Giant water baths containing harmful chemicals are used to treat different fibres, and then that water is expelled back into surrounding water systems without proper filtration, which sends one or any combination of 8,000 different processing chemicals straight to the earth’s groundwater and soil. Add to this a UN report that two-thirds of the world’s population is set to face water scarcity by 2025, and the need to curb this kind of textile waste becomes paramount.
Talking about the waste involved in production also has to include the industry’s carbon footprint. In many countries where a substantial percentage of the GDP is from the textile industry, the mills in which different fabrics are produced are often antiquated and therefore CO2 emissions are greater. CO2 emissions in the USA from the textile industry alone accounts for almost 5% of the country’s total. China’s CO2 emissions, counting only their textile production, would rank them 24th in the world among other country’s total emmisions. For whatever reason, the industry still relies heavily on fossil fuels to create the steam involved in processing, and to power everything from the chemical treatments to the air conditioners that keep the workers from boiling. Here is one piece of evidence pointing to the inefficiencies and waste in the textiles industry: through looking at research done by the Stockholm University Department of Systems ecology, the eco-friendly textile company O Ecotextiles found that it takes less energy (and therefore less emissions) to drive a car from New York City to Washington D.C. than it does to produce enough nylon for a couch, which is about 25 yards.
Hopefully, other companies like O Ecotextiles will continue to emerge from the tricky intersection of environmentalism and entrepreneurship, for they are currently working to create a network of eco-friendly manufacturers, which already includes a wastewater-free mill and a dye house that produces biodegradable textiles with zero heavy metals.
Personally, I hope that all industries start taking more responsibility for the environmental degradation they cause in search of turning a profit. Personally, I know that there are steps I need to take to reduce my carbon footprint, for the convenience of a consumer and the profit of a business or corporation should both be thought about in a holistic way that takes into account the consequences of these capitalist ideals. Part of what makes challenging the growing ecological impact of the textile industry interesting is that on a small scale, as in individually or amongst a community, is that it can be fun. Clothing swaps, and second-hand shopping/donating keeps good and lightly worn clothes from collecting dust, allows others to experience the joys of receiving or purchasing a new thing, and opens up a much more affordable method of experimenting with one’s sense of style.
I hope you consider this before racing off to a mall or outlet store for your next shopping spree, and especially before you let a stain or small tear become reason enough to toss a garment in the trash. There are people who will come to you to pick up your unwanted textiles, and there are people who could really use them. Regardless, we all need this planet.