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.
Typically when we think about the relationship between water and clothes it’s about which rinse cycle to use on laundry day. Think again, industrial textile production affects water in ways that outlast the lifetime of fashion or clothes.
“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.
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.
A multidisciplinary Cornell design and research team, assembled to tackle the environmental problem of post-consumer textile waste, has developed a unique fabric-shredding machine in hopes of a zero-waste solution for the textile industry.
Textile waste is a big issue, one that I find is not talked about a lot. According to this article, the average American throws out 70 pounds of textiles a year, with the majority of it ending up in landfills – SEVENTY POUNDS!!!!! That is a lot of waste, and a lot of clothes in the landfill!
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.
Markham residents have no excuse to live with messy closets anymore. A novel recycling program launched by the municipality last fall to give residents a place to dump unwanted textiles such as mismatched socks, old underwear and worn out linens, has diverted more than 1.4 million kilograms of clothing waste from landfills in less than a year.
The following post about clothing waste is written by College of Textiles student Jon Millner, who is the spring 2014 communications intern in the University Sustainability Office.
With the new spring season fast approaching, I recently did some spring cleaning in my closet and realized how much space is taken up by excess clothing. I found many t-shirts and outdated jeans that I just knew I wouldn’t wear again.