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If we are what we eat” then it holds good as well for “we are what we wear” too. The fashion industry loves to acquaint us with what one should wear, what one should buy and what to carry without telling us about the hazards of textile waste that one would create. If we have that power at our disposal, why can’t we choose to use it more wisely? says Maithreye Rajagopal. It is an established fact, as quoted in many websites and research journals, that textile is the second most polluting industry in the world just behind the oil industry.
A piece of fabric that is considered not useful for its original purpose by the owner is textile waste. This waste includes fabric scraps from cutting, leftover fabrics from the rolls, sampling yardage, damaged fabrics, clothing samples, unsold garments, and second-hand clothing waste. According to Gardetti and Torres (2013), the fundamental source of fabric waste is post-consumer waste and pre-consumer waste; they also confirm that pre-consumer waste includes unsold with retailers and damaged stock. Textile waste signifies pollution deriving from clothes, shoes, accessories, towels, sheets, curtains and more. The ecological balance is adversely impacted by material production processes and disposal methods.
Before exploring the waste reduction methods, we must assess the issues related to textile manufacturing. When textile manufacturing companies illegally dump their waste into local rivers and streams, they contribute to microplastic pollution. The waste also derives from landfills, where plastic fabrics degrade over time into minuscule beads. When it rains, stormwater carries the microplastics to the ocean, producing adverse aquatic effects.
The true cost of something that is made in a jiffy, briefly worn and ready to be thrown is unfathomable. Fast-fashion textiles contain synthetic materials like polyester, helping companies manufacture clothes cost-effectively. The fabrics are forms of plastic, deriving from petroleum, a fossil fuel. During combustion in textile manufacturing, the fuel source releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and environment. The fast-fashion industry produces nearly 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions every year. It also creates surface-level pollution from facility and landfill runoff.
“Fast Fashion” is the business model that most retail stores have started to follow. It emphasizes new styles delivered to consumers immediately. Whereas a decade ago there may have been four seasons in a year, now there are upwards of 10. Smaller, more frequent seasons incite more shopping, while also quickening the pace at which clothing goes out of style. Clothing produced in massive quantities can also be sold at lower prices, encouraging consumers to buy more than they need. This means that in an effort to keep up with the best in fashion we are spending more money on clothing that will quickly go out of style and into the landfill. The world now consumes a staggering 80 billion pieces of clothing each year. This is up 400% from two decades ago.
Every industry has its ethical issues, but some of the most overlooked ethical problems of the textile industry are low wages, GMO, child labour, animal cruelty, high usage of natural resources, environmental pollution, and increased consumption and wastage of products.
Fast fashion companies can minimize textile manufacturing waste by sourcing a portion of their products from second-hand stores. Selling thrift goods reduces the demand for manufacturing processes, limiting synthetic material emissions. Reselling garments and textile goods also minimise atmospheric and surface-level waste, landfill waste and microplastic runoff, freeing up landfill space.
One of the most important natural resources textile uses is water. WWF reports that one key ingredient that doesn’t show up on our garment label is water, which can take 2,700 litres to produce the cotton needed to make a single t-shirt. The volume of water consumed by apparel production each year is currently around 79 billion cubic meters or 32 million Olympic swimming pools. The UN estimates that a single pair of jeans requires a kilogram of cotton. And because cotton tends to be grown in dry environments, producing this kilo requires about 7,500–10,000 litres of water. That’s about 10 years’ worth of drinking water for one person.
There are various methods the industry and consumers can engage in, to reduce this textile waste. When we regulate and minimise textile-related pollution, we can improve environmental conditions and preserve natural resources and the ecosystem’s stability. Many of the changes needed to make clothing more sustainable have to be implemented by the manufacturers and big companies that control the fashion industry. How you dispose of the textile waste and clothes at the end of their useful life is also important. Throwing them away so they end up in landfills or being incinerated simply leads to more emissions.
Recycling and reusing textiles, fibres and waste materials is an effective method to build sustainability in the apparel industry. This can be done and achieved across the board in large-scale garment factories, small-scale garment factories, retailers, and individuals at home. Post-consumer and pre-consumer textiles can be recycled mechanically into tiny fibre that can be used for yarn and fabric production for several purposes. In contrast, shorter fibres may result in weak quality textiles, and it is good to combine the recycled fibres with the new ones to achieve the desired quality.
Retail brands such as H&M incorporate a small amount of recycled fibre into some of their garments. Some other companies that are practising these sustainable waste management actions are Patagonia, Nike, Levi, Evrnu, etc. Patagonia recycled fibre into products, and their recycling program has used polyester wool and cotton. The company reclaimed polyester from plastic bottles and blended it with recycled wool for its wool products to have good quality products.
In Nike’s sustainable program, post-consumer waste shoes are reprocessed and reused for new products. Nike introduced the reuse of a shoe program way back in the 1990s. They use discarded bottles from Japan and Taiwan in their fibre production process. These fibres are then spun, knitted, and used for Nike jerseys. Evrnu, on the other hand, processes post-consumer cotton textile waste for quality biobased fibre. Levi’s has several programs that include fibre recycling. Levi Strauss and Co. recycle waste plastic bottles and black food trays into the fibre. Products from Levi Strauss and Co. have a minimum of 20% of post-consumer waste in them. All these companies are working for the sustainability of the environment, and while some focus on waste products like turning plastic bottles into garments, others focus on used clothes for upcycling and clothes from people who are no longer in need of them.
Given the size of the global textile industry, which is continuing to grow with the support of constant consumer demand, steps need to be taken to address the growth of textile waste. Some companies are also reducing textile waste, taking responsibility for their clothes throughout their life cycles. They provide drop-off boxes for consumers’ old articles, repurposing the fabric for new clothes. Companies that produce clothes from recycled materials or resell second-hand items support the circular economy.
By adopting a comprehensive textile waste strategy that incorporates the 3R principles, cities can address local waste-related issues while reaping economic gains. The waste hierarchy pyramid provides different ways to reduce textile waste - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The order matters here! Reduce what you use before you start to reuse. Reuse what you have before you recycle it.
This is interpreted as buying and selling fewer new clothes or making them in a way that uses fewer resources. In manufacturing, zero-waste patterns increase fabric yield and minimize scraps.
Encouraged by the inclination of the young generation, brands and retailers are taking the responsibility of green practices seriously. A study by thredUP reports that millennials and GenZ are readily adopting resale products, which is making even traditional retailers embrace second-hand. Overall, the second-hand clothing market is expected to double in the next five years.
95% of all textiles have the potential to be reused or recycled, but currently, they are recycled at a rate of only 15%. This disproportionate rate is thought to be caused by a lack of awareness among individuals. Post-consumer and pre-consumer textiles can be recycled mechanically into tiny fibre which can be more effectively implemented to prevent so many textiles from being thrown away. Textiles that are too damaged to be worn should be recycled into new fibres. Many are simply downcycled into wipes or blankets, and down for pillows.
As consumers, the changes we all make, not only add up but can drive change in the industry, too. According to Fee Gilfeather, a sustainable fashion expert at charity Oxfam, we can all make a difference by being more thoughtful as consumers.Fashion has the ability to change and shape lives through its personal connection to us all. Fashion brands today have started implementing a circular economy based on Cradle-to-Cradle in their business models. For effective implementation, fashion brands adopt inventiveness, creativity, versatility, and resilience. Brands set an example for both other brands and their customers by having the lowest possible footprint while offering appealing consumer products. The fashion industry, in following this fundamental goal, aims to ensure sustainable businesses maintain a positive impact on people and the planet, which can have a significant contribution to future sustainability.
Anushka Das is a Textile Design graduate from NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology), New Delhi with an experience of 14 years with the industry. She was associated with reputed designers Neeru Kumar and Ritu Kumar. Anushka started her la ...
bel- Anushka-Annasuya in the year 2010, a label for apparel and home, that is sensitive towards maintaining a balance between Indian aesthetics and contemporary demands.
She has been associated with prestigious brands like Fabindia, Jaypore and Ajio designing and producing the women’s apparel line for them. She has been associated with the Ministry of Textiles for the project “Revival of Kani Shawls” and Ministry of Minority Affairs for USTTAD Projects in Jodhpur And Lucknow for Natural Dyes and Kamdani respectively. She has been a regular Jury Member in NIFT Textile Department.
Anushka-Annasuya works with the philosophy of zero waste and sustainability and has been associated with Ecofemme for development of cloth bags for cloth menstrual cloth pads
She likes to appreciate things handmade and constantly explore ways to make space for crafts in modern lives.
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