An estimated 1 million tonnes of textiles are thrown away per year in the UK alone. At least 50% of these are recyclable. The proportion of textile wastes that are actually recycled annually, however, is only around 25%.
Textile recovery and recycling provides important environmental benefits:
- It reduces the need for landfill space. Textiles in landfill are problematic, as synthetic products will not decompose, while woolen garments do decompose but they produce methane, which contributes to global warming.
- It reduces the pressure on virgin resources, and it avoids the environmental damage normally done in the manufacturing of textiles and garments.
- It saves water, and reduces the amount of chemical dyestuffs used, which lessens wastewater pollution. Additionally, landfills pose a threat to local ground water reserves. When it rains, water drains through the rubbish, picking up chemicals and toxic materials, such as dyes and bleaches used in clothing, and collects at the bottom. These pools can be up to 200 times as toxic as raw sewerage.
Many fashion companies are incorporating recycled fibres, fabrics, and clothes into their products. There are three ways of recycling fashion:
- New fabrics and textiles can be made from recycled fibres or products, i.e. recycled polyester made from used plastic bottles, or fabrics made from recycled yarns.
- Using discarded factory surpluses, offcuts or materials, which would otherwise go to landfill (zero-waste manufacturing).
- Repairing, re-purposing, re-fashioning, or customising existing clothing so that it is given a second life (upcycling).
The end goal for recycling is to create zero waste, or establish a ‘closed loop system’ in which all discarded materials are used as the resources. In this way, garments could have an infinite number of lives. The rapid rate at which the world population is growing means that more resources will be needed in the future, aiming for zero waste is therefore crucial, not only for the fashion industry, but for all supply chains.