The fashion culture of our modern day consistently enforces “More is better”. We are perpetually taught that we need the next new trend to avoid being faux pas. But where do all our endless attempts to fit in end up?
In many cases, sadly, landfills. The Council for Textile Recycling states that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates about 3.8 Billion pounds of clothing are recycled per year; Think that’s a big number? It’s not. It’s only about 15% of all Post-Consumer Textile waste (PCTW); meaning 85% ends up in our landfills.
That 85% accounts for around 5% of all landfill waste.
We have dramatically increased our buying and disposal of textile goods. The EPA stated that from 1999 to 2009 alone we have increased our PCTW by a whopping 40%, while only 2% more has been diverted toward recycling initiatives. We are not only buying more nondurable, inexpensive, cheap, labor exploiting, chemically ridden clothing, we are also throwing it away like yesterday’s old bologna sandwich.
Where do these textiles go? Well the ones that are donated go through lengthy processes of meet n’ greets with different opportunities for recycling. They start out like we would imagine, in second hand shops and consignment stores, then make their way through this cycle…
In the end game, it’s divided up into 3 main sections; usable clothing, wiping cloth grade and fiber conversion grades. Meaning either people wear it as second hand clothing, convert it into wiping cloth (not even regular cloth, specifically wiping cloth), or transform it into fiber material such as car and sound insulation or carpet padding.
Companies such as Goodwill and Salvation Army use cycles such as this to help create jobs and opportunities for people who would not otherwise have them.
Many people have made quite the stink over companies stating they are using the donated clothing for good causes such as Habitat for Humanity or impoverish countries when there is an entire ‘man behind the green curtain’ that no one wants you to know about. Specifically: 1. That many of the recycled textiles are done so by for profit companies making money off of our donated goods and 2. That the clothes donated to third-world countries are having a drastic negative affect on the textile economy of those countries.
Although we wish for the world to be perfect place where all of our excess and underused clothing get passed on to the next generation of budget friendly shoppers, it just is not going to happen. The bulk of donated clothing does go on to be worn again, specifically 45%. But 30% is made into rags and 20% into fibers. At least it is being recycled friends. Although people are making money off of your donated clothing, it is being repurposed AND creating jobs as well as a market for those recycled goods. There are some good initiatives but we cannot always expect people to take care of our trash and then donate the recreated goods, it is semi-selfish of us to think so.
The real pressing issue is the economies over seas, specifically places such as Ghana and Nigeria where entire textile economies are being shut down because 85% of clothing bought and sold is second hand. Although I believe in creative destruction when it comes to jobs, donating mass amount of clothing with out any implementation plan is comparable to the angel of death. What are they doing with THEIR excess? We are reaking havoc on economies that we will never come face to face with.
Both of these are pressing concerns, but what type of activism are these outraged patrons taking?
To start out a huge step everyone can take is to donate ALL of your unwanted textiles. Now I am not saying “clear out your closet and go buy the next quick fashion trend”, we’ll get to that in a moment. What I am saying is, any time you are about to throw a piece of clothing out, donate it.
If you are worried about how your goods are being handled places such as churches, violence/abuse centers and children’s hospitals are great places to donate to. If you’re interested in seeing if you can make a few bucks try and sell your clothing to a local consignment shop, they’ll buy it if they think they can sell it. What you want to be weary of is big corporations, do you homework and research where the majority of their goods end up, make them take accountability.
The bigger and harder step to take is to simply buy less, better goods. It is a lot easier said than done folks. Quick easy fashion is a trend and our social society thrives on it as much as our economy depends on it. What I urge you to do again is make theses fast mass-producing companies take accountability. Some companies such as Patagonia have even advertised against buying their goods if you do not need them to reduce the consumption of our economy.
Research the companies you support and spend your money wisely. Research shows that people who spend more money on experiences than on materials have higher utility related to money spent. You can get more bang for your buck by buying quality goods once and spending the saved money on memories.
Let this open your eyes to the current textile waste situation that all of us can make an impact on everyday. Quality/Quantity.
Written By : Hannah Jablonski