December 04, 2015

Textile Trash



Textile waste is a huge global environmental issue. In the US alone the EPA estimates that 13.1 million tonnes of textiles are thrown away every year. Up to 95% of textiles that end up in landfill are recyclable. Furthermore, between 15 -20% of fabric used in garment factory production lines is discarded as excess. Check out this infographic about textile waste in the US. 

Pre-consumer textile waste is derived from the following sources:

  1.  Cut and sew waste from the actual garment making process.

  2.  End-of-roll textile waste is as the name suggests excess fabric left on the roll after the manufacturing process.

  3. Damaged textile waste emanates from garment items that have been rejected because of colour or print failure.

  4. Clothing sample waste consists of finished and unfinished clothing samples that do not reach retail.

  5. Finished clothing waste is made up of those items that make it to sale but are not purchased.

And then there is the post-consumer textile waste which results from used and discarded clothing and accessories. When you add all this to the energy and resource intensive nature of garment manufacture, its use of toxic chemicals, emissions of environmentally dangerous bi-products, and frequent exploitation of sweatshop labour, a picture emerges of an industry that is far from sustainable in its activities.

A response to this has been the emergence of  "sustainable fashion", a philosophy that attempts to address sustainability issues associated with a garment product's lifecycle. A major point of sustainable fashion is to design and make garments that do not end up in landfill at the end of their conventional life i.e. cradle to cradle and NOT cradle to grave. This implies that the item will be reused in some way, either forwarded to a new owner or recycled by reusing its materials. Another approach is to manufacture garments comprised of biodegradable materials.

The Zero Waste movement is another part of it, with designers making use of innovative pattern making techniques to create garments that use all of the material and thus eliminate cut and sew waste. While popular with smaller, independent fashion designers, the challenge is to convince large scale manufacturers to adopt zero waste and be convinced of its financial viability. Another important element is the focus on fair labour practices for factory garment workers from developing countries. This is becoming harder for big manufacturers to ignore with the rise of the ethical consumer who demands supply chain transparency and wants to know where and how their garments are made.