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Textile Waste and Lots of It

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

Have you ever had a favorite shirt? One that you loved so much that you wore it and wore it whenever you could? Sure, after a year or two, it ended up with one or a couple of holes in it (or the design faded to the point that it was unrecognizable), but that didn’t stop you from continuing to wear it. Eventually, the holes got too big (or the shirt no longer fit you), and sadly, you had to part with your favorite shirt. You might have tried to donate it, but the holes were so big that no one would have ever taken it or worn it (that might be debatable, but let’s assume it’s not). Into the trash it went, and you watched, a single tear rolling down your cheek, as the trash can lid flapped back and forth...eventually coming to a halt. You let out a sigh before turning and going, your favorite shirt now just a memory in the back of your mind.

But is it actually gone? You might think so, but, believe it or not, that shirt is going to remain on this Earth for a long time. Probably long after you’ve left too. You might not think too much about it, but you’re not the only one to have gone through the aforementioned predicament. Millions of people have thrown away countless numbers of favorite shirts, resulting in a mind boggling amount of textile waste.

Like many other issues surrounding our environment, textile waste continues to be a growing concern. The amount of textiles generated has continued to increase every year (according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency or EPA for short), and therefore, the amount of waste produced has continued to increase as well.

According to the EPA, in 2018, 17 million pounds of textiles were generated worldwide. Of that number, 2.5 million pounds were recycled and 3.2 million pounds were combusted with energy recovered. That leaves 11.3 million pounds that ended up in landfills. That’s 11.3 million pounds that will just sit there for 200+ years before fully decomposing. This is obviously an incredibly large amount of waste.

Fast fashion has contributed to the large amount of textile waste as well. Fast fashion is a term used to describe the business model that many fashion brands use to supply their inventory. Companies will produce cheap (and I mean CHEAP) clothing that won’t last for much longer than a season. This encourages the consumer to discard old clothing and buy new clothes every few weeks, rather than every couple of months or year. If you’re like me, you’ll buy clothes every few years, favoring the stuff you’ve had for a long time over new threads.

Not only will the consumer go through cheap clothing consistently because of fast fashion, but fashion brands will cycle through entire inventories, discarding unsold product to make room for new, seasonal clothing. And I don’t mean seasonal as in the four seasons; fashion brands will cycle through up to ten types of seasonal clothing a year. Ten times a year, unsold product will find its way into a landfill where it will not decompose for thousands of years.

Part of our mission at UP Cycle is to divert these textiles from ending up in landfills. So far, we’ve diverted 116 pounds of fabric. This number will grow even larger as we expand and create more of an impact.

You can help prevent textile waste as well. Do you have any old clothing you were considering tossing? You could donate it instead to a local charity. There are many people who would benefit from used clothing greatly. Is your clothing too holey or raggedy to be donated? Well, you could always upcycle it! Need a rag or a dust cloth? That’s an old shirt; just cut out some squares with some scissors. Do you have a bunch of memorable shirts that you don’t wear any more? You could cut out the designs and stitch them together into a blanket. Do you have a hamster and some old socks? Give the little fluff ball a place to curl up and sleep using your old socks! That’s a really specific example, but that’s what I did with mine.

There are a ton of options available to upcycle your clothing, and help staunch the ever growing flow of textiles to landfills. We would love to hear your thoughts on textile waste and repurposing in the comments below!

That’s all for this week! Textile waste is a large and ever-growing topic, and we will be sure to revisit it in the future, along with updates on our own progress. Thanks for reading The Upcycled Thread, and we will see you next week!

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