Fashion's Dirty Laundry: Waste
This is part 1 of 3 in a Crushes series on Fashion's Laundry List of Problems. This is where we are breaking down the industries problems in to three key categories; Waste, Labour and Fast Fashion/Over Consumption.
Okay. Let's kick this of with a very controversial take: Plastic, our common enemy, is less wasteful than textiles because at least it gets recycled! The textile industry rarely operates in this circular way, instead, large amounts of non-renewable resources are used to make clothes that are often used for a short time, after which, the materials are mostly sent to landfill or incinerated. Linear as.
On crops like cotton, pesticides are used to control insects, diseases and weeds. One of these pesticides is Aldicarp which, a single drop absorbed on to skin can kill an adult. (Say what?!) And Aldicarp is only 1 of the 8,000 chemicals that will be used in a patterned garments' production (Say 8,000 'what's?!). The various poisonous pesticides used to treat cotton can impair memory, cause depression, paralise and kill. While we can choose to buy organic cotton, spare a thought for the cotton farmers who literally have to handle this pesticide in its purest form.
After the resource has been picked, it goes to be milled and treated. Processes like dying, tanning leather, etc, have really toxic components that not only the garment worker have to handle, but also these dangerous chemicals, dyes, fats and oils get washed out in to rivers, drinking ways, and ultimately out in to the ocean, and in to our marine life friends. To wash off this toxic sludge takes a lot of water. An average white t-shirt needs 2,700 litres of water to create (from the cotton field to the completion of the production of the textile). Because we are in a first world country, thinking about water as a valuable and scarce resource is hard. Meanwhile the 6th most populated Indian city Chennai (7 million), ran out of all water reserves last year. Textile production uses 4% of the worlds fresh water supply, and there is no coincidence that cotton growing countries like the US, Pakistan, India, China, and Turkey have stress on their water reserves. And friends, I hate to bring up the topic we fight so hard to keep down, but we might need that water soon, in say, oh I don't know, a climate crisis?! *CRY*
After the treatment process, the finished textile gets sent across the world to a manufacturing warehouse, which then gets sent back across the globe to various brands, which then gets sent across many seas to distribution centers, who will then send it on to their stockists. That means your clothing will have seen more of the world than you have! Your garment is a fugitive on the run, harbouring many hidden carbon emissions.
International travel and freight is one of the biggest contributing factors to climate change, but the production of textiles has more green house gas emissions than than all international flights and maritime shipping combined - it equates to 1.2 trillion kgs. That is because creating a textile is super greenhouse gas heavy. It's pedal to the metal. For every 1,000 KG (think: a car), textile production makes 17,000kg of carbon emissions - 5 times more than the production of paper or plastic.
The wastefulness continues with unsold stock at a retailer. Brands over order because it is cheaper (financially, not environmentally) to make more and discard it, than to not have enough of what could be sold. Some companies incinerate stock, others cut it up. Some fast fashion "green-wash" to seem more sustainable, like H&Ms recycle clothing service which only 0.1% of their goods ever get recycled.
The consumer unknowingly pollutes every time they wash their synthetic clothes which are made from plastic microfibers - a particle so small that your washing machines filter, and our water treatment facilities cannot capture. So unfortunately, in every wash cycle, your garment degrades and disperses plastic in to our ocean. 500 million kgs of microfibers every year, which is 16x more than nasty microbeads from cosmetics. Our fish friends unknowingly consume these, and then in turn, an average shellfish eater unknowingly consumes 11,000 microplastic particles a year.
There's always the op-shop (god bless them). The companies will donate unsold stock, as does the tastes-have-changed consumer. Unfortunately 85% of our clothing ends up in landfill. When we dump our clothing at the op-shop (maybe I don't like it anymore, or maybe I never liked it enough when I bought it. Or maybe it had a lil' hole from when I snagged it on a nail, or maybe there was a stain I didn't bother to get out from my big night about town. Or maybe it was never a good item and the op-shop couldn't sell it even though they tried), the opshops have to pay for it to be dumped in to landfill. It makes me reconsider my titchy attitude when an op-shop asks if my donations are clean or in good condition, as if they should be happy to be gifted from me, their most gracious benefactor! But using the op-shop as my free waste-disposal-system takes away their ability to do good work in our communities, and doesn't ensure my garment has a new life.
The garment (that represents all of that greenhouse gas) should be worn! It should be given a nice, long life where it is cared for! And when it dies, it should go 'to a better place' which in my opinion is not in the earth. Because unlike natural fabrics (like 100% cotton, silk, wool) that will eventually biodegrade back in to the earth if buried, any synthetic fabric (like polyester, nylon, rayon, spandex) will degrade, but not into nothing. Synthetic materials disintegrate into thousands of tiny synthetic-plastic particles that will outlive all of us. Pesticides, chemicals, carbon emissions, microfibres, and all!
So that is some dirty, dirty laundry. It doesn't finish here, please read part 2 about Fashions Dirty Laundry about the industries poor labour practices.