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Textiles

Now a small but growing group of innovators is turning to the genius of nature in an attempt to put wastefulness and pollution in the apparel industry out of fashion, right at the source: They are using live organisms to grow pieces of biodegradable textiles, creating environmentally friendly materials in the laboratory—and are even producing some near-complete items without the need for factory assembly.

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“The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world...second only to oil,” the recipient of an environmental award told a stunned Manhattan audience earlier this year. “It’s a really nasty business...it’s a mess.”

While you’d never hear an oil tycoon malign his bonanza in such a way, the woman who stood at the podium, Eileen Fisher, is a clothing industry magnate. 

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One of the biggest misconceptions that consumers have is that we should only donate clothes that are gently used. Ninety per cent of all people in Ontario donate at least some of their clothes, but whenever we have a pile of unwanted clothing we sort it based on what we imagine to be valuable and donate only the “good” stuff. The rest goes into the waste bin. Fifteen per cent of all unwanted garments are collected while the vast majority, 85 per cent, ends up in our landfills, taking up valuable space, releasing methane and toxic leachate and contributing to climate change.

In a world of excess, innovation comes not just in designing something new and different, but also designing something new and different with something old. In this case, textile waste. In just 20 years, our taste for fast fashion has doubled our textile waste; today the average American discards around 70 pounds of textiles per year, the majority of it ending up in landfills.

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