The Issue with Textile Waste

The Basics

The Textiles industry is one of the biggest contributors to pollution on the planet. It’s up there with the likes of Oil. Oil, of course, is what most of the synthetic fabrics are made of. Natural fibres aren’t so innocent either, using up an extortionate amount of water; 1kg of cotton consumes around 15,000 L of water.

That wastewater is then contaminated; given the 8,000 different chemicals used in production. These substances are endangering wildlife and human communities worldwide. Alongside chemical pollution is the problem of microfibres. Solids from the processing of the fabrics get swept into waterways where they make their way into food chains.

How much waste is there?

It is estimated that 1.7 million tonnes of textiles are consumed in the UK each year, around 1.5 million tonnes of this go to landfill, despite the fact that almost 100% of this is recyclable.

These are statistics you may have come across in relation to the fashion industry. Our extremely quick use of garments is causing a real problem environmentally and socially, all over the world. This alarming issue has been brought to media attention a great deal recently. However, non-clothing textiles make up 19% of all bulky waste in the UK, this is not solely a fast fashion issue.

I found my focus while working in events, the fabric being used in temporary decor simply isn’t being valued properly. This hidden waste horrified me to think of where else needs urgent attention.

How do we Solve Textile Waste?

In order to solve textile waste problems and create sustainability, it would seem we need to decrease the demand pressure on the industry. Grinding to a halt certainly seems unrealistic. Slowing down, extending useful life, repurposing are far more viable steps in the right direction. And at the very least we need to put a stop to single-use.

A Circular Economy* model lends itself particularly to the types of materials that are able to hold their value over time and over several uses. This encourages the idea that the value of a material of any type after one use matches the need of another user. With this in mind, it’s possible that a great amount of new material procurement could be shifted toward a market for second use materials. The efficiency of circulating materials instead encourages decreased supply prices and, perhaps most importantly, eradicates the necessity for the current detrimental demand on natural resources and manufacture.

Fabric reclaimed from trade shows by The Textile Review

A New Rulebook for the Industry

So we enforce a new set of rules: No single-use, fair pricing and transparent procurement all-round, some industries would be devastated. Unfortunately, change unfortunately can’t happen overnight. There’s so much potential for the industry to adapt with the education we now have about the damage that it’s currently doing. The Textile Review was launched having seen a big problem in the events industry – now a solution has been created and awareness is growing.

Sorting through textiles reclaimed from trade shows

The Textile Review now has the aim to significantly reduce single use of fabric, in any industry. Simply, to repurpose what can be repurposed, extending the useful life of precious materials. If your industry or an industry you’re aware of could make a change in the way it uses textiles, to better serve the planet and its people, please do get in touch and be part of the movement.

*For those unfamiliar with the ideas related to Circular Economy, The Ellen McArther Foundation offers some fantastic online resources on how the system can radically change the current path of unnecessary environmental degradation.

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