A research into textile waste
Within version 4 we’re trying to, next to plastic, also give our attention to the textile waste problem. But hold up… this project is really still in the experimenting phase.
In the age of fast fashion, textiles are often seen as a disposable product, but actually they can last forever. Just like plastic. According to research by Victoria Hartley of Fashion Revolution, a Lycra sport set will take 20-200 years to decompose in a landfill. The majority of fast fashion garments are plastic-based or mixed fibers, which cannot be recycled and will not naturally decompose in landfills. Today shopping for clothes has become a passive act – something so easily accessible with a few clicks that we can have a whole new look delivered to our door the following day. We need solutions for the growing amount of clothes and textile created from this lifestyle.
Often we justify shopping with an intention to donate cast-offs to charity, but while part of the charity donations in the EU are reported as sold in stores, the rest is largely shipped overseas, often to countries in East-Europa, Africa and India. Giving to charity becomes more an act of dumping clothes or getting rid of it. But what happens with the clothing, when you donate them in a textile bin on the street to a charity or recycling company? For our research of this new project we went to Salvation Army and Sympany, two clothing recycling/sorting centres to find out how much clothing ends up there every week or month and where it will end up after.
Salvation Army (Leger des Heils):
This group started before WW2 to collect clothing for poor people, however in the 60s it became that there were more clothing than poor people, so they opened stores around the Netherlands and other countries in Europe to sell the surplus they have. Nowadays Salvation Army receives about 1 million kilos of clothing from the 2000 bins they have in supermarkets, offices, and stores. With a team they have developed a machine that shows what type of material the garments are made from. Using this they found out that very often labels are not only lying about where the garment is produced, but also that it’s not 100% reliable in communicating what it’s made from. For instance, the label could say 100% cotton while there is maybe 50% of synthetic fiber in it as well. This makes it really hard to sort and recycle clothing.
Sympany receives over 23 million kilos of clothing per year in the Netherlands and has four sorting centres around the Netherlands. They have around 2500 collecting bins and even have their own garbage trucks to pick up the clothes. In addition, the waste is officially property of the government, but because they don’t know properly what to do with it, non-profit organizations like Sympany and Salvation Army can still make profit from it, they have to pay for the waste from the government.
This system is expensive and inconvenient because the clothing bags go from one truck to the other, which often damages the clothing. This means that they can’t sell these in good condition anymore and some clothes will quickly be seen as waste.
Eventually, Sympany and Leger des Heils have their sorting standards: the delicate sorting and the coarse sorting. Delicate sorting, A quality, will go to the second hand stores. Where they follow three price standards good, better & best. If it’s B/C quality then buyers will take it to Bulgaria or Turkey, where they will decide if it will go to the stores or if it’s recyclable. The C quality is under EU standards and will be left for Africa or India. D quality items will go to recycling unions like Wolkat and Recovertext. In the better cases, as with jeans brand like ‘Mud jeans’, they will collect the D-quality jeans for recycling and make new jeans from them.
Sounds good right? We throw away our clothes in a bin, people will sort it out for us super organized, and eventually we can still make people happy with a lot of clothing that we don’t like anymore. In the Netherlands all of the waste clothing adds up to 135 million kilo. Of that, only 30% ends up in the sorting centres, and the rest ends up immediately in landfill. In the sorting centres, 55% will be resold in the stores, 30-40% will be recycled for isolation material or new yarn, and 10% will be thrown away because it’s too dirty too even make something out of it. And why to dirty? Because the bags they receive sometimes contains used diapers, because people think they can still recycle it….or the clothes are wet, because the bin was leaking… or the bin even includes a free dead rat…
Even when it’s better to throw your clothes in a clothing bin than just in a regular bin. The reality that we heard from both organizations is the fast fashion industry has caused donated clothing bins to become overloaded with clothes with often too poor quality to sell to second hand stores. Also, the competition between the fast fashion stores and their second hand stores is getting too tough, because people can buy new clothes for the same low price.Not only in Europe we see this competition, we are now also expecting trouble now Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda announced that second-hand apparel would be banned from their markets by 2019. Our ‘charity clothing’ kills their own textile industry and the clothes they receive doesn’t have the quality like it was before.
With the money they normally buy second hand clothes with, they can use it to promote the industry and create jobs. The logic behind the plan seems to make sense, because in the long run they slowly grow back to the textile industry they once had, but in the short run the deficit will be covered by new clothes from Asia, because it’s the same price, but new.
So the problem is getting too big. We keep consuming cheap clothes as though they are some disposable product, and have been made in circumstances not good for people or nature. Also, our waste pile is getting bigger, but no one wants it anymore and we can’t recycle very much of it efficiently because the fibers of the garments are all mixed and the label says something different than the truth.
The thing with the fashion industry is that it’s so complex, because of a lot of industries with big footprints are involved.There is almost no transparency in this market which makes it hard, even if brands and the government are really trying. ‘The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry after oil’ has been swirling around the internet, but has no factual basis. Even if it’s the most polluting industry or not, even if you like fashion or you don’t, we all wear clothes and all have something to do with it. We shouldn’t be complacent, so what can we do?
1. Consume less new, conventional fashion.
2. Repair your clothes.
3. Recombine them with other clothes, see what you can do with your old clothes.
4. When you really need to buy new clothing, buy it from a more sustainable label that uses organic, natural, or recycled fibers and manufactures in a country that uses renewable energy at energy efficient factories.
5. Buy clothes second hand.
6. Support political action to limit global carbon emissions from every source.
7. If you want to get rid of your clothes, bring them to a friend in need or a second hand store. You can also bring them to one of the recycling bins (if they’re available) in a good bag that doesn’t rip easily.
8. Try to avoid synthetic clothing, even if it’s recycled, think about the microplastics in the washing machine 😉
As a fashion designer, I’m not against shopping but we do need to consume less, change our habits and take good care of our clothes. If we do that, the supply chain will shrink and stop continuing as it does nowadays. A good way to take care of your clothes is to treat them with the right guidelines, repair if it’s broken, reuse it or as a last choice recycle it. We want to give you the tools to do so, but for now we are still in the experimentation phase. We are looking for the best options by trying out everything we can imagine in repairing, reusing and recycling. We are also researching ourselves where the clothes will end up, and what we can do with polyester clothing (plastic). Luckily we already saved a pile from the back of this secondhand store in Eindhoven to experiment with 🙂
Hi Alicia I’m super excited to hear that you’re doing this. I actually came across precious plastic when I was looking for a shredding machine. I wanted to shred material and make it into yarn, art yarn. Maybe that’s something you could do. Have you ever spun wool? It’s really fun I love doing it ,very satisfying.
Hello, I am here in the Philippines. If you would like, I can grab some photos of the stores where these clothes end up, as well as pictures of the scrap trimmings that come from the local garment industry in Taytay and Antipolo City.
Would love to have more pictures for our research!! I shredded some cotton, wool, acryl and mixed fibers. That goes easily but now trying if you can needle punch or wet felt it. Spinning/twisting, I want to try but it becomes flakes when you shred it, so spinning is hard I think, but for sure worth to try. I keep you updated!
Hey there ! I’m very interested in that topic too ! Would be great to have a machine that shredds textile waste… I’m currently working on a way to up-cycle synthetic clothes, so I’ll be checking your work 🙂 Do you use the same shredder machine as for other plastic products ?
I wonder if after shredding the fabric and it turns to flakes if it could be spun with another fiber to create a Tweed yarn? I do a bit of knitting and Tweed yarns have been very popular lately! Just an idea to ponder 😊
If you are looking for historical precedents, then books and articles on the “Shoddy & Mungo” industry, in the west Yorkshire region of England, might make interesting reading. At one time, whole towns were sustained by reprocessing used (mainly woollen) fabric.
See “THE PROCESSES USED IN THE SHODDY AND MUNGO INDUSTRY” (PDF) from this website.
This could also be solved with a Cradle2Cradle solution.
Return the clothes, to the store, get a refund on new clothes.
Shops send them back to the producers.
They DO know what the textiles are made of…
Producers can ‘refurbish’ the clothes or re-use the materials.
Might not work perfectly from the start, but once you know you are going to get back the textiles once your customers are done with them, you can keep this in mind during production.
I’m really interested in the shredding machine, has any of you make one?
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