Did you catch the super successful ‘War on Waste’ series in 2017? Remember the enormous pile of clothes dumped in Sydney’s CBD? Do you recall the stats on how much clothing we dump every year?! Were you shocked at how little time it takes for a pile that big to grow?
Here’s a little refresher, Australia’s the second largest consumer of apparel in the world, we purchase one third more of (new) apparel that our fashionable comrades in Europe, and we’re only just behind the United States! Plus a special mention – considering our population, we’re the biggest dumpers of garments over any other country, sending the highest volume of textile waste to landfill each year. Every 10 minutes in Australia we throw away six tonnes of apparel – Every 10 minutes!!!
You’re probably thinking:
A) Can we recycle it?
B) Where else can it go instead of landfill? and
C) What choices can I make when it comes to my wardrobe – shopping and culling?!
It’s common practice in Australia, we’ve been encouraged to give our unwanted clothes to charities or pass them on to family or friends. To be frank, the best option as a shopper is to donate, donate, donate! The Red Cross and The Smith Family are the largest organisations (at the moment) in Australia who repurpose and recycle textile waste most effectively, currently they prevent approximately 7.5 million kg’s from going to landfill.
What you didn’t know about your Wardrobe…
The average fashionista only wear’s about 30-40% of her wardrobe, what’s the remaining 70% of jeans, shirts, dresses doing? Just between us, they’re ready for a new home and here’s the best two options for responsibly cleansing: You should either consider donating to the two big charities as mentioned above or passing on your unloved pieces to family/ friends or selling them at second hand markets. Information collected on shopping habits in the Northern Hemisphere found on average consumer’s are only wearing most pieces 6-7 times and then they’re ready to get rid of it.
Here’s the top tip, there’s a number of ways we can shop responsibly following the information above. Heard of the ethically friendly, sustainably minded Blog and App taking over Australia and America? Check out this terrific piece by Bianca Raby for Good On You – How I Went from Shopaholic to Being a Proud Conscious Consumer…
The manufacturing of fashion waste however, compared to other forms we commonly know like paper, metal or glass, is a slightly different kettle of fish. The retail industry on average only sells around 20-30% of apparel at full price, a remaining 40% is heavily discounted and the final chunk of the pie is NEVER SOLD! That’s a whopping 30% of apparel produced from virgin materials, produced by locals in foreign countries, polluting their environment, shipping tonnes across the ocean, sadly only never to be sold and end up as waste. On top of that approximately a further 8% of textile waste is produced from the production process (off the cutting tables), the scraps from cutting and making are discarded also ending up in landfill. In 2015, China’s textile industry processed over 50 million tonnes of fibre and accounted for 54 percent of the world’s total production.
We’re on the cusp of exciting developments in the fashion sustainability sector. This is where it gets interesting, as a shopper or a brand we all have a role to play.
A new approach to textile recycling, focussed at the consumer, is being adopted worldwide including here in Australia. Textile waste (80% of it) is recyclable – old garments, off-cuts, rags, scarves, upholstery, flags, banners etc – can be collected and recycled. An Ikea store in the UK introduced textile collection bins for customers, Ikea encouraged consumers to return unwanted product from their homes, regardless of the products branding origin. You may be familiar with other similar projects in retail stores; H&M, Patagonia, Uni Qlo, Country Road… to name a few. Here they off the option to bring in any kind of branded apparel, drop it off at a retail store and receive a bonus discount off full price stock in return.
Specifically for fashion brands, bulk waste recycling is now the most efficient option. For example Melbourne based environmental warriors, Textile Recyclers Australia are the first in Australia to offer recycling in this way. Big companies generating textile scraps, offloading samples and discarding other general fabrics can deliver bulk (keyword bulk) waste for the Melbourne company to process and produce new material.
This fast growing business is significantly important for the manufacturers and producers, because they offer businesses a solution to save millions of tonnes of textile waste from ending up in landfill. TRA has recycled and saved approximately 60,000kgs of textile waste from landfill and more impressively, they have the capabilities to collect and process upwards of 1.5 million kg’s of textile waste each year.
Five things you can do as a shopper for responsible fashion consumption:
#1 Assess your purchases – Do you really need to buy more? Each time you’re thinking about shopping (out of habit), ask yourself “Do I have it already… Do I need it?” You may come to the conclusion that you’d much rather hold onto your money for something else instead!
#2 Evaluate – What you’re currently doing with unwanted clothing. 30 years ago we grew up with our cousins hand-me-downs and baby clothes being passed around and it’s engrained in me to peruse thrift shops when I feel I need to search for something – yoga apparel is currently on my radar! If you have well cared for, lovely garments that you can’t seem to offload to friends, then you should pop them into your local charity bin. This goes for all other un-wearable, ripped or torn items. If you simply can’t give them another life then give them to charity too. As mentioned above an enormous percentage of textiles are saved from landfill by The Smith family and they disperse ragged pieces via a number of sustainable avenues.
#3 Care more for your garments – this means less laundering. I know from my experience, lovingly taking care of my clothes, I follow one simple rule – don’t repeatedly wash your clothes and tumble dry. Why? It diminishes the fibres by breaking them down at a much more rapid rate than general wear. Secondly it distorts the shape and structure, it also creates tension on the stitching, fades colour’s and ultimately it’s environmentally irresponsible. The best care practices are air-ing out your garments, and or light rinsing and hanging them correctly. I know I have pieces from 8-12 years ago, the proof is in the pudding!
#4 Repair and mend – If you’re an 80’s baby like me, you’ll know we grew up learning some fundamental principles for looking after yourself in all aspects. Personally I’ve been working in the fashion industry for nearly 10 years and often purchase sample and seconds, many of these pieces require repairing for cuts, rips and missing buttons! To perform simple repairs is a highly valuable skill and oh so simple. To replace a button is not complex, nor is re-stitching a seam, especially on a cotton or linen garment. I realise not everybody has a sewing machine or the full kit n’ caboodle full of goodies. The next best option is to Google your closest alteration service, because they offer every possible solution to fixing a garment and then some.
#5 Choose more wisely – Over the years we’ve learned a lot of responsibility is on the consumer as to how we can dictate outcomes in the marketplace. Believe it or not big companies respond to buyers trends – yes, the big companies are solely focussed on making money, but if we don’t buy their product (because we don’t agree with how it’s made) then they’re going to be forced to try new tactics. You’ve made your way here because you want to You’re already using Good On You’s app and you’re reading the blogs. Are you sharing the info with friends as well? And are you sticking to your guns when it comes to shopping? Yes there’s lots to learn, yes you can be an ambassador for change and yes you can influence the tribe around you.
A number of these actions have been covered in mored detail and Good on You has it all, find out more on Caring for Your Clothes and Caring for the Earth and or Insider Tips on How-To Op Shop Like a Stylist.
Small steps toward a healthier future.
Textile Recyclers Australia are combatting the commercial industry and The Smith Family are working for the shopper. We have the ability to take small steps and help change our fashion industry because they’re already working on helping themselves. It’ll be an adventure for some brands and an interesting time for shoppers to experience. Over the next 5-10 years we’ll see a a much broader approach to sustainable practice, taking care of our clothes and the must ask question “is that sustainable fabric you’re using?”