Textile waste: why what you wear matters
Take a moment to consider how much time you’ve spent thinking about what you wear. The conversations you’ve devoted to discussing the topic with your friends. The hundreds of magazine pages you’ve flipped through seeking sartorial inspiration. The pre-work mornings you’ve lost to outfit indecision. When did the necessary task of getting dressed turn into hours of staring blankly into your stuffed-to-the-brim closet feeling like you’ve got nothing to put on?
Today’s culture of overconsumption perpetuates an insatiable appetite for the new—and, sometimes, a disregard for anything that’s not. Yes, you might have spent a long time thinking about your closet, but you’ve likely spent far less time considering the environmental impact of it. But what you wear matters and textile waste is a bigger issue than you might know.
That’s why Metro Vancouver has launched the Think Thrice About Your Clothes campaign in an attempt to minimize textile waste and encourage residents to reduce, repair, and reuse their clothing, instead of throwing it out. Talk about a hat trick. Or rather, a hat-scarf-shirt-pants-socks trick.
In 2016, Metro Vancouverites alone discarded 17 pounds of clothing per person. That’s the equivalent of each person adding the weight of 44 T-shirts to landfill in a year. If we carry on at the same trajectory, the situation is only going to get worse. According to a report by Greenpeace, the volume of clothes being consumed is increasing the impact of the textiles industry, which is already one of the Earth’s biggest polluters. And it’s probably no surprise that North America is one of the worst offenders.
To put this into perspective, the production of new garments uses one third of the world’s fresh water resources. But when you consider it takes 2,650 litres of water to produce one cotton T-shirt, it’s easy to understand how quickly it’s being depleted. A greater reliance on synthetics and man-made materials like polyester is also escalating the environmental impacts of fast fashion. For example, the use of fossil fuels required for polymer production result in three times the carbon dioxide emissions than that of cotton.
According to a 2017 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, textile production produces 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per year. That exceeds all international flights and shipping.
After all, fashion is big business. Between 2000 and 2015, clothing production and sales have doubled and yet utilization is down 20 percent. In other words, we are buying more and wearing less. In fact, we purchase a staggering three times as many clothes as we did in the ’80s. And while no one is suggesting we bring back the neon-legwarmer trend, there’s something to be said for adopting the decade’s less excessive approach to our sartorial choices. That’s because one of the best ways of tackling textile waste is by buying less. That’s not to say we should stop shopping, it just means we should be shifting our focus toward investing in items we really love because it is estimated that more than half of fast-fashion production is disposed of in under a year.
This is a worrying statistic when you know that it is has been reported that one garbage truck full of textiles is sent to the landfill or burned every second. Not only is this a huge waste of all of the resources in these products but it creates yet more pollution, through emissions of hazardous chemicals and greenhouse gases. Worse still, plastic-based materials do not decompose. And that’s without taking into account the synthetic microfibres that are released from fabrics like polyester when they are washed, which eventually make their way into our rivers and seas.
But the good news is that by increasing the lifespan of our clothes we can reduce these environmental impacts. By being aware of the consequences our choices can have on the environment, we can make more informed decisions. Yes, we need to pull our socks up, but the shift toward more sustainable shopping habits is a positive one. And by changing our attitudes toward how we buy, look after, and repurpose our clothing, we can make a difference.
For more information on textile waste, plus tips and advice on how to reduce, repair, and reuse your clothing visit the Metro Vancouver website at www.clothesarentgarbage.ca. Follow this series to explore some of the specific actions you can take to minimize your textile waste.