Do you smile as you hold up your newly purchased garment? Then frown at the offending plastic wrapper it came in? Everyone knows plastic is bad for the planet. But what about the garment itself?
"Textile and fast-fashion waste is a huge problem that's growing exponentially but gets far less attention than it deserves," says Brendon Jewaskiewitz, President of the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA).
It's high time consumers knew the truth – fashion is stripping the planet bare. It's almost impossible to recycle and its waste costs a fortune to process.
According to Jewaskiewitz, the global textiles industry generates some 92 million tonnes of waste annually, about 4% of the world's total waste volume.
That equates to a rubbish truck of clothing every second. By 2030, the figure is predicted to be in excess of 134 million tonnes.
Textile and clothing production are extremely energy intensive processes that contribute significantly to air pollution. These industries are reported to be responsible for about 10 percent of global carbon emissions.
Textile mills are also to blame for one fifth of the world's industrial water pollution, or 20 percent of water waste. This is from using over 20,000 chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substances.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. Don't forget the secondary waste created from production, manufacturing, packaging, transporting, marketing and retailing fabrics and clothing.
Disposing of fashion and textile waste creates even more problems. "Consumers think everything can be magically recycled but, in reality, very little fashion waste is recyclable," says Jewaskiewitz.
Recycling old clothing is very slow and labour intensive, and requires special skills, often making it too costly to be worth the effort. A single garment can be made of various materials, some not recyclable, that must be carefully dismantled and separated. Mechanical recycling can also damage fibres, making fabrics unfit for reuse.
Most old clothing made from synthetic materials also can't degrade properly. That's why over 85% of discarded clothes are either burned or end up in a landfill.
While population growth is certainly an important factor in the rapidly rising tsunami of fashion waste, it's not the main cause. Jewaskiewitz blames runaway consumerism in the fashion industry.
"People are reportedly buying 60% more clothes than they did 15 years ago," he says. That equates to around 56 million tonnes of clothing per year.
Why? Fashion used to be seasonal. But fiercely competitive fashion houses are flooding the market with new designs at shorter intervals, enticing trendy shoppers into the latest outfits much quicker.
Only conscientious consumers can stop the fashion garbage avalanche that's sweeping the planet, but it means dealing with the problem and not its symptoms.
Yes, you can sell, hand down or donate old clothes. Or you can find ways to reuse them, like cutting them into cleaning rags or stuff cushions with them.
"The best solution is to opt for longer lasting materials and styles that never go out of fashion, and demand the same from the fashion industry," says Jewaskiewitz.
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