The Big Picture
On a daily basis, all of your clothing decisions do influence the environment. How so? Well, as a child, you constantly were growing which required that you buy new clothes to accommodate your changing body size. Your old clothes became useless to you and thus you got rid of them. Of course, in a perfect world, these clothes would get passed onto smaller children where they could be used to their full potential. This contributes to over-consumption of clothing and more waste at the landfill.
Similarly, many adults have an interest in fashion and a desire to keep up with the latest clothing trends. They may continue to buy new clothes simply because they are tired of wearing the same clothes over and over again. New clothes are then added to old clothes and spark a need for clearing out the closet. Unfortunately, this clothing often gets thrown in the trash or donated and shipped overseas. Donating clothes is commonly ineffective because of the lack of local participation and costs of international shipping. The low volume of participation in the second-hand clothing market creates difficulty for success and thus gets sent to international markets. The problem is that the cost becomes too high for other markets to purchase these second-hand clothes.
More specifically, textile material in fabrics are difficult to decompose in landfills. A very low percentage of textile recycling is available, thereby creating a challenge as we try to reduce landfill waste. The more textile material recycled, the lower the demand for landfill space, which means that less greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere.
If we continue to purchase more clothes than we need, there will be higher demands for manufacturing. In some cases, crude oil is involved where harmful chemicals are released such as hydrogen chloride. These chemicals can contribute to illness, and contaminate our wastewater systems. This may not seem significant because many clothes are manufactured in developing countries, where we are not always aware of the consequences.
With this in mind, it is possible to recycle textiles into useful materials such as carpet underlay, insulation for automobiles, and much more. However, greater awareness and participation is required in such a project from community programs and environmental businesses.
What’s Being Done To Combat Textile Waste
A Canadian example of textile recycling is in the City of Markham. The City only accepts clear garbage bags to ensure there is suitable sorting. The program is the first in the country and its success has introduced 75 bins where residents can toss their unwanted textiles for recycling. The textile recycling program works with local thrift stores to sell reusable articles of clothing. They then proceed to assist local programs like food banks, camps, and shelters. The program has proven to have a positive impact on the environment while saving municipal budgets on curbside collection. The exclusion of curbside textile waste also educates the community on the significance of recycling.
Introducing textile recycling in Waterloo region would lead to a greener environment and reduce the demand to produce textiles. With more participation in the program, the carbon footprint of an individual would be reduced. Recycled textiles can assist in other environmental initiatives such as producing reusable shopping bags. Utilizing textile bags made from recycled materials will eliminate the need for plastic shopping bags that end up in waste after a single use. It is up to each and every one of us to be conscious about our consumption of clothing. Think about it, what can you do to decrease your footprint on the clothing industry? Your actions now will influence the future generation.
About the Author
Vincent is an Urban Planning student at the University of Waterloo with a passion for environmental change. His interests are in land development and transportation planning to develop compact and high-density communities. Besides urban planning, he is an avid car enthusiast, particularly in performance vehicles.