The problem of textile waste

Outsourcing of textile industries to low-income countries and developing countries has made clothing more affordable. It has given rise to a trend called fast fashion, where new clothes are bought more frequently to catch up with the latest trends in fashion.

The questions that arises is what happens to the clothes that are no longer fashionable? Are they trashed in the dumpster? Are they donated to charities or thrift stores? Or are they shipped to developing countries where they are resold? The answer is yes, yes and yes respectively.

The U.S EPA stats show that 85 percent of post-consumer textile waste is not recycled and ends up in landfills, occupying five percent of the landfill space.

Thrift store industry has seen tremendous rise in the last few years. Thrift stores are responsible for increasing consumption of second hand clothing. Much of the recycling that happens in Columbia for textile is for cloth re-use rather than recycling the textile. Ben Kreitnar, waste minimization coordinator from the city stated that this means that the clothing has to be in acceptable condition otherwise it will be discarded and sent to the landfill.

According to Council for Textile Recycling, only 10-20 percent of the donated clothes are resold in thrift shops or elsewhere. 80 percent of the textiles are either sold to recycling companies, where they are sorted and divided into 3 main categories. The majority is used and shipped to developing countries (45 percent). Some 30 percent is recycled and converted to absorbents. Some 20 percent is converted to recycled fiber. The remaining five percent is sent to landfills.

However, the above figures were only for the donated clothes. These numbers could be slightly different if considering that some people might actually throw their clothes and other fabrics into waste bins and dumpsters. While people have become conscious of recycling plastics, cans, glass and paper, textile still doesn’t have the same status. Part of it can be attributed to a lack of awareness and a lack of separate bins. Most people give their clothes for donations but for damaged clothing, they just discard it with the rest of trash because there are no separate bins for textile.

Some private organizations are working towards it but the city governments need to place more emphasis on it to make textile more recyclable.