On a trip to Cambodia this year I saw an old man walking around selling thick winter coats in a country where the temperature rarely drops below 20 degrees, even on the coldest days.
These coats appeared slightly worn, but still in good condition, leading me to believe they must have been used clothing shipped from a country with a northern climate, a country, which unlike Cambodia, would have a need for winter jackets. This is just one example of where textiles could end up after you get rid of them. Most people who donate their clothes to charity expect them to end up in a second hand shop in your community, however the reality is that most donations end up being traded abroad for profit, in scenarios such as I witnessed in Cambodia.
The waste that the textile industry produces is a factor many people don’t understand fully, or take into consideration. Fast fashion has led to cheaper products, which makes clothing more affordable to replace often. This means that our closets are constantly changing, and more and more products are being thrown out as we replace them with newer outfits. In fact, in North America, we now buy 5 times as much clothing as in the 1980s! The fast fashion industry has led to a huge increase in the number of textiles found in landfills, creating not only environmental concerns but also social and ethical issues.
While recycling clothing through donations it is often considered the best option, it does not mean it is a solution to the textile waste problem that we are facing today. The global impact of these textiles on the local economies can be horrific, to the point where many countries in Africa have banned the import of these hand textiles. In many places, the re-sale of these clothes from first-world countries has eliminated local markets completely, resulting in the loss of jobs and a stall in the economy. Take for example Nigeria, where the textile and clothing industry has been virtually eliminated, with over 200 000 people having been laid off due to the import of second hand textiles. These textiles are often considered in too poor condition to be of value to anyone in the first world. The old man that I saw walking around in Cambodia is a perfect example of the impact fast fashion is having on the world around us, as he became yet another slave to the fashion industry.
What’s even worse, is when we just throw our old clothes out, which is what the majority of people in the first world do. In fact only about 15 percent of used clothing is recycled or donated. Instead, Americans throw out over 10.5 million tons of clothing to every year, which all ends up in landfills. These clothes end up in a landfill, which is extraordinarily bad for the environment as almost none of the fabrics are all natural, but are mixed with materials such as polyester. These mixtures then take thousands of years to break down, while releasing toxins into the surrounding environment.
So, what can you do to with the clothing you would like to get rid of? There is no good solution. Both donating clothing and throwing your clothing out have extreme issues, so the best solution is to buy less clothing, maybe of better quality, rather than contributing to the fast fashion industry. This will create a lot less waste to deal with, therefore diverting your clothing from going to waste. While this is not a perfect solution, every piece of clothing that is diverted from the landfill or from being shipped overseas will help to make the world a more sustainable place.
By: Jordan Schroecker