Unravelling the Truth behind Textile Waste

December 1, 2017

Unravelling the Truth behind Textile Waste

The average lifespan of a t-shirt is three years. After this point, if you have not donated or reused that once-beloved t-shirt, it ends up going to the landfill. Over 70% of the world’s population uses secondhand clothing. North American’s buy five times the amount of clothing we did a mere twenty-five years ago. Unfortunately, this abundance of clothing adds up and we throw away 85% of the garments we purchase; totaling a whopping 12 million tonnes of textile waste annually. Natural fibers used for clothing take hundreds of years to decompose at a landfill. Due to anaerobic conditions, these fibers give off methane gas contributing to global warming. Worse yet, synthetic textiles are designed to withstand decomposition completely.

Let’s take a look at the process of making textiles in the terms of environmental impacts. During the entirety of textile manufacturing and consumption, the main impacts to the environment are the use of natural resources, energy, and water.  The use of these resources depends on fabric type and multiple synthetic and natural chemicals. Stage one of textile manufacturing is Production Phase. For example, during the creation of polyester textiles over 70% of the energy used to create the finished product occurs during the production stage alone. Polyester is made from non-renewable petroleum which releases greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during manufacturing. Worldwide the production of textiles uses over 354 million gallons of water daily. It is a known fact that cotton is amongst the highest water-intensive agricultural crop. Nevertheless, cotton remains the most in-demand textile by clothing producers to date. Stage two is the Printing and Design Phase. Digital printers or screen printing use excessive energy and heat to adhere images onto their garments. Over the years, advanced technology has allowed textile manufactures to decrease water usage during this stage by moving from water-based dyes to air-dried dye. Once the garment is finished, we move onto stage three which is the Use or Consumerism Phase. Garments are shipped worldwide which adds to the total of fossil fuels used and GHG emissions released overall. Once in the hands of the consumer, our natural resource, energy, and water consumption never ceases. For example, once the consumer buys the garment the impacts to the environment during the Use Phase is the highest due to the consumer washing, drying, and ironing the article of clothing multiple times over its lifespan.

How can you help reduce textile waste from accumulating at the landfill? The first step is to curb your desire for the latest fashion trends. New fashions come out weekly in the stores; this is done on purpose to create a demand. Trying to keep up to date with the fashion magazines is an endless battle. Loraas recommends finding your own style using items already in your closet. This can be a struggle as your current garments may not be the newest trend, however, there are now multiple fashion assistant apps you can download for free using items already in your possession. If you desire a change or refuse to wear the same article of clothing repetitively, the second step is to try clothing swaps. Borrowing clothing or purchasing secondhand not only saves your hard-earned dollars, it also helps the environment by reducing virgin textile production. It’s not a new item, yet, it is new to you! What if your clothing item is too worn for wear? Good news!  There are multiple textile recovery and recycling companies across Canada that will accept your clothing. Step three is to do your research and donate textile waste today. A friendly reminder that textiles and used garments cannot be placed into your Loraas blue curbside recycling cart. One fiber at a time we unravel the current textile problem together!

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