Used Clothing 70X Better for the Environment
The European Recycling Industries Confederation has just released new research that reports that recycling textiles results in a lifetime environmental impact 70X lower compared to new products.
This 70x figure accounts for global exports such as transport emissions and water consumption and shows that the reuse of clothing is a huge win both in terms of CO2 and water savings.
This is especially significant in light of the fact that 60% of clothes end up in municipal waste, either incinerated or placed in a landfill. Fast fashion, which refers to a business model based on replicating trendy clothing designs and mass-producing them at low cost, is one of the main culprits.
The report is a follow-up to the EU’s Strategy for Sustainable Textiles launch, which requires member states to start collecting textile waste separately by 2025. It also endorses the potential for a ‘circular textile value chain’ where every piece of clothing is recycled in an optimal way or reused.
The study also showed that 3kg of CO2 is saved for each piece of reused clothing, and only 0.01% of the water used to produce new clothes is required.
While people often think of paper, metal and plastic when it comes to recycling, less awareness is given to textiles. In the United States, more than 15 million tons of textiles are discarded yearly. In Europe, most end up in landfills or are incinerated, sometimes in poor eastern countries, as fuel for heating homes. Every second, the equivalent of a rubbish truckload of clothes is burnt or buried in a landfill. It’s a frightening statistic and one that is caused by overproduction, overconsumption and problematic end-of-life solutions.
The environmental impacts of this waste are significant and include the release of methane gas, the emission of harmful chemicals and the contamination of surface and groundwater.
The solution to this problem is to make it easier for people to recycle their old clothes. This can be done by donating them to charitable organizations, community drop-off bins, and online or brick-and-mortar consignment shops. Thankfully a new obligation for EU member states to collect and sort textile waste is helping the reuse industry develop.
France is one of the pioneers, having introduced an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system in 2007, holding producers responsible for collecting and recycling their products. It also promotes the eco-design of textile products and supports repair and reuse. France now has 44,000 textile collection points providing easy access for their citizens.
Reusing existing garments is critical, but some groups also recycle textiles as raw materials. A number of small businesses and major brands are putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to recycled materials. For example, Green Business Network member Ooloop uses recycled wool, cashmere and cotton in their clothing lines to help keep those fabrics out of landfills.
It’s important to note that only a fraction of the used clothing that ends up in recycling centres is turned into new fabric. Most is cut into rags or processed into softer fibre that can be used as filling for furniture and building insulation.
Creating a global market for used clothing is one way to tackle the issue, as well as supporting the growth of ethical fashion and recycling textiles in general. Ultimately, we as consumers need to decide whether to support fast fashion. Instead of going to a fast fashion retailer, buy quality pieces from a vintage clothing store, or write your elected officials and tell them where you stand on the subject.
Ultimately, we need to reduce the amount of clothes and textiles that need to be disposed of; the nice part is it can save you money and contribute to environmental sustainability.