Textile recycling can reduce landfill waste.
There’s a lot of talk about Fast Fashion, which produces high volumes of clothing of lower quality and sells them at low prices, contributing to clothing waste. People are buying more than they did 15 years ago, but they also throw more clothing away yearly. Over 92 million tonnes of textile waste is produced every year around the world. It should be said that it’s not only customers contributing to the waste but retailers as well. It will generally cost a retailer less to throw away returned or unsold items than to put them back into circulation.
Donating is always a good idea, but the reality is that many secondhand stores tend to receive too many donations that can’t always be sold or given away to those in need. They then ship the clothing overseas, where generally, most items can be used, but these countries also face the burden of being stuck with too much stuff.
Another alternative to this textile waste problem is to recycle our textiles and turn them into something new. We know textile recycling can reduce landfill waste, but how does it work? Sometimes, the entire garment can be turned into rags or cloths, insulating, and even mattress stuffing. In other instances, the garment must be dismantled and the different materials separated and removed.
Generally, textiles are sorted by type, fabric, and colour. The materials can be disassembled either mechanically or chemically. With mechanical processing, fabrics will be shredded or pulled apart into their individual fibres. The fabrics will be spun into new yarn and then used to create new items. This process is well-developed for cotton textiles. Chemical processing occurs when textile reuse is not easily done; such is when the garment is made of many different materials. The chemicals used remove contaminants from the materials, such as dyes or unwanted fibre, and produce a high-quality fibre similar to the original fibre used. Unfortunately, this method is very expensive and is only used by a handful of companies.
While textile recycling seems like the obvious option to reduce our textile waste problem, and despite how much textile recycling can reduce landfill waste, only 1% of textile waste is recycled every year. The reason is that many cities or countries lack the proper recycling infrastructure. Just think about how much trouble we have to recycle plastic, let alone textile waste! Many places also lack the workforce that makes mechanical textile recycling possible. Because everything is done by hand with mechanical processing, it is very labour-intensive and slow.
It is no wonder that fast fashion companies would rather throw away their garments than repurpose them. Some eco-conscious brands, such as Patagonia, will take back their used clothing and gear and create new products. Levis will also take back old jeans and use them for building insulation. But there aren’t enough companies taking the initiative to reduce waste, and more needs to be done to help with this problem.
Suppose governments started monitoring what stores throw away or even what gets thrown into the landfills and fining them. In that case, there might be motivation to throw away less, repurpose more, and even create clothing with better quality materials that could last longer. Moreover, if there were greater recycling investments, we could easily see how textile recycling can reduce landfill waste, improve our technologies, and create a better circular economy for used clothing.
As consumers, we also have a part to play. We must avoid buying from fast fashion companies, buying better quality clothing (I know it can be expensive, but that’s why secondhand stores should always be your first stop shop), fixing your clothing whenever possible, and repurposing used items. Together we can improve, and textile recycling can reduce landfill waste.