I love clothes. Probably too much if I am completely honest. I spend hours scrolling through Instagram, poring over the daring outfits and eccentric designs, feverishly trying to source a similar jacket to the one I saw someone sweeping down the street wearing.
However, with fashion brands and systems becoming more transparent, exposing the ugly underbelly of fast fashion, I have consciously tried to adapt my consumer addictions: buying only second hand, selling via apps and taking my un-loved garments to textile recycling centres. Yet, the more I research, the more I am exposed to the reality that no matter what action I take, most my garments still end up in landfill. How? We have the means to salvage. Surely there is a way to re-use what we do not want.
It made me think – why aren’t we effectively recycling clothes? Given time was currently ‘of the essence,’ I set out on a treacherous google adventure into the wide world of textile recycling.
In short. It is not the most pleasant story.
Let’s imagine for a moment we are an undesired, used garment. Not broken, just part of last year’s ephemeral. A conscious individual places us in a recycling bin, and we are whisked away to a specialised sorting centre. Damn. Someone accidentally threw a drink in the bin. We, and the rest of the garments go into a landfill or are incarcerated. End of.
Alternatively, let’s say no drink was thrown. Then, we are either hand or mechanically sorted via machines, classified by fibre and colour. Wools with wools, cotton with cotton etc. Theoretically, we can then be sent off and transformed into another capacity.
Most often, however, the presence of zippers, buttons and labels of differing and man-made fibres prevent us from being sorted via machines or recycled without workers having to first spend hours removing them. Unfortunately, with garments being abundant and used textiles now selling for less and less, sorting businesses cannot financially afford this required labour… and we end up in landfill.
Even if we are part of the fortunate few who do get an extended life-period, we still ultimately have to be discarded of.
The point is, over 350,000 tones of used clothing ends up in landfill every year in the UK. For those that are recycled, only 1% of these actually come back into the textile’s chain. Most recycling processes use vast amounts of resources and chemicals and reduce the fibre quality so much that they cannot be spun into sellable garments. As with everything, whatever they are transformed into eventually ends up with all the other abandoned textiles in landfill.
There is no simple answer and it is not to say you should not recycle. The key is however is to be more conscious – buy less, take care of and try to appreciate what you have, re-use, and if possible, buy garments consisting of only one type of fibre material.
By Natasha Fulton