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Textile recycling for a waste-wise planet

Over the years, more and more intriguing (read horrifying) statistics come out about how much waste is being produced by the manufacturing sector. And, unsurprisingly, the lion’s-share credit goes to the textile sector.

Textile recycling for a waste-wise planet
Figure 1: The Environmental Protection Agency stated that around 90 million tons of textiles were generated till 2021, with only 15-16 percent estimated to have been recycled.

With fast fashion continuing to overwhelm our wardrobes, the inventories of clothing stores are out of capacity and exhausted. Also, clothing donated to the developing countries most often ends up in landfills.

The Environmental Protection Agency stated that around 90 million tons of textiles were generated till 2021, with only 15-16 percent estimated to have been recycled.

Also, landfills receive more than 10 million tons of textile waste every year. One contributing factor to this state is the supply of donated cloths to the developing nations is excess of the original demand.

Thus, this eventually results in mountains of second-hand clothing being dumped in every corner of the world. Concerning economic aspect, markets flooded by the used items and its vendors are hindering the businesses of local designers and makers.

In short, we are undergoing a serious problem evolving the textile waste. Our efforts to make this sector sustainable will go in despair if we don’t fix this burgeoning problem.

Then, the very question comes:  Could recycling be the one solution we’re searching for long? The answer is – YES, with some reservations. You may ask WHY? Let me explain -globally, a growing number of brands are switching to recycled fibers. Here lies the problem. Recycled fibers are made up of synthetic fibers, including elastane, nylon, and acrylic.

Hence, there’s that climate-cost involved in this. First, the raw material for synthetic fibers is fossil fuels. Also, synthetic fibers continue to impact in long-term. It sheds plastic micro-fibers into the environment when cloths made of it are being washed. Thus, we cannot satisfy ourselves thinking that clothes made from recycled materials are completely sustainable. Therefore, I have used the term “reservation”.

Coming to the aspects of textile recycling – it is the process by which old clothing and other textiles items are recovered for reuse or material recovery. The essential steps in the recycling process involve the collection, sorting and processing of textiles, and then transport to end users of second-hand garments, rags, or other recovered materials.

Textile recyclers, in the first place, shortlist the materials according to composition, sizes, color etc. Then, they separate re-usable products and then go for resale. Citing example from North American regions, collection boxes on street corners are operated by charities to collect textile items.

The items seem re-usable are sent to resale and the rests are to recycle. Evidently, famous retailers like Walmart, American Eagle, Marks and Spencer are accepting textiles for reuse and recycling.

The practice of textile recycling is not a new one. It has been exercised for quite a long time, but the quantity or extent has been negligible compared to the manufacturing quantity.

This is because of reasons like pattern of customer consumptions and disposal, manufacturing processes, appropriate technology and most importantly, absence of mass awareness.

Textile recycling offers a myriad of environmental benefits. It reduces wastes and the greenhouse gases as when the textiles are burnt gases are produced. It significantly decreases landfill space requirements.

Most importantly, it reduces use of fresh raw materials which are responsible for air/water pollution and energy consumption. However, the percentage of clothing turned into new items remains negligible. Many organizations and companies are working on making it easy for clothing to be collected.

Sabbir Rahman Khan
Figure 2: Sabbir Rahman Khan
The writer is a Knowledge Management, Communications and Advocacy Professional working for an international development organization.

In the meantime, the best thing we can do for the mother earth is to be more careful about the destination of our old textiles. Also, we must not be so quick assuming that the clothes we are donating will be recycled for sure. Instead, what we can do is to find ways to reuse and repurpose textiles items in our home. This practice will offset the possibility of old textiles items being ended up in landfills.

As we are becoming more aware of and familiar with the hazards associated with dumping old textiles to the landfill, it can be anticipated that the recycling industry will keep on growing.

Given this, we should keep our eyes open for trends such as slow fashion or seasonless clothing. This will help us to disseminate the idea of recycling and to know better about the interplay of clothing and sustainability. At the end, it is not only the producers’ responsibility.

We, as consumers, can also help affect positive change by choosing brands that last longer and use eco-friendly materials as their commitment to reduce climate footprints. No matter how you plan for recycling textiles, by taking the time to recycle your old clothing instead of throwing it in the garbage can, you’re doing your part to make the world a better place for living.

If anyone has any feedback or input regarding the published news, please contact: info@textiletoday.com.bd

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