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The Unseen Harms of Textile Waste

Pollution, carbon emissions, and climate change are some of the greatest threats facing the planet and our livelihoods. The industrial nature of the fashion industry is a major culprit of environmental harm. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions with the World Bank estimating that fashion industry greenhouse gas emissions will surge to more than 50% by 2030. Fast Fashion and industrialization has spawned a culture of rampant purchasing and subsequent disposal of garments creating a waste problem, harming the health of the environment, ecosystems, and humans.

The average consumer throws away approximately 70 pounds of shoes and clothing per year. The current solution for discarded textile waste is to either recycle the materials or to send them to landfills and incinerators. Despite the fact that nearly 95% of textile waste is reusable or recyclable, only 12% of the global material used to produce clothing ends up being recycled. Instead, an estimated 84% of clothing ends up in landfills and incinerators, where it breaks down, emitting greenhouse gases, and releasing chemicals into the ground and atmosphere, which can take between 20 to 200 years to decompose. During decomposition the 8,000 different synthetic chemicals used in fashion manufacturing, leach into the ground, soil and runoff into the water sources. Furthermore, when clothing gets incinerated, it releases carbon dioxide, methane, greenhouse gases, toxins and chemicals all of which are vented directly into the atmosphere, contributing to the growing climate crisis.

Reducing the amount of chemicals used in the production process is a start to addressing the adverse health effects contributed by the textile industry. An estimated 43 million tons of chemicals are used in textile production every year. These chemicals pose a threat to our water systems, agriculture and to human health as well. Most of the chemicals are known carcinogens and hormone disruptors which lead to many harmful health conditions. The manufacturing of polyester, and other synthetic fabrics for example, release emissions including volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride, all of which can cause or aggravate respiratory disease. The health of humans and our environment is at imminent risk if the fashion industry continues its unbridled usage of chemicals. In the meantime, recycling garments can help to diminish the impact these chemicals can have and limit the amount of chemicals that enter the environment via disposal methods. Further, the amount of washing and separation involved in recycling textiles reduces the amount of chemicals on the fabrics as well. More importantly, instead of having textile waste creating greenhouse gases in the landfill process, recycling textiles can create an opportunity to reduce our CO2 production by turning them back into a raw material.

Recycling fabric, however, can be complicated. Many fabrics are made of blended fibres, making it much more difficult to separate in the recycling process. This difficulty is resolved by PHOENXT. Through PHOENXT’s groundbreaking separation technology blended fabrics are able to be separated in reusable fibres, solving a major problem in recycled fabric production.

Regenerative soil practices can also help to address some of the environmental degradation and health impacts the textile industry can cause as well. These practices source sustainable materials and put sustainable farming practices at the forefront. The benefits of regenerative soil practices include avoiding fertilizers and pesticides that run off into water sources, composting, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Check out our past blog “Regenerative Fashion: Sustainable Clothes Revolution?” to learn more!

The current method to deal with textile waste is putting the health of humans at risk by threatening nearby ecosystems, water sources, contaminating soil that could be used for agricultural purposes and contributing to global warming. Recycling textiles in a closed loop production system poses a sustainable solution to the issues caused by current textile waste disposal.

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