That Top Looks Better On You Than In Landfill; Why Waste Minimisation Is Vital

by: Rosie Dalton | 5 years ago | Features

Image: Minimal Waste is one of our 8 Well Made Clothes Values.

Did you know that Australians send $500 million worth of clothing and textiles to landfill each year? This amounts to an average of 30 kilograms per person, which is a whole lot of clothes for the tip. According to the Council of Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia, this makes clothing the fastest-growing household waste in the country. And, when you think about it, our diligence with the household recycling bin just doesn’t seem to extend to our closets in quite the same way. But why is this and how can we work to shift that culture?

As consumers, we can all make active decisions to break the fast fashion psychology and hold onto our clothes for longer. That means investing in quality, timeless pieces and pledging to mend or recycle them when they become too worn out. But, just as consumers can work harder to address these issues on an individual level, so too can brands implement measures to minimise their own wastefulness. When you think that an estimated 15-20% of the fabric used to create a piece of clothing ends up wasted, this is obviously an integral place for change.

In China alone, millions of tons of unused fabric at mills goes to waste each year when dyed the wrong colour. This is not even factoring in the textile dead stock created from inefficient patternmaking techniques. Low impact dyeing and creative solutions to fabric cutting, then, can make a huge difference in terms of keeping that fabric out of the ground. And upcycling or otherwise using the dead stock generated, ends up breathing new life into the tons of fabric usually discarded as waste. Not only can these measures help to this reduce landfill, but they can also make the process more economically viable — as less waste fabric ends up being factored into the overall price of garments.

As The Guardian points out, designers play an integral role in creating a ‘closed loop’ system of production. And this is something that needs to begin in the design room. According to Leigh Mapledoram, programme area manager for textiles and public sector at Wrap: “Design plays a critical role as it has an effect on all process steps, from raw materials to end of life. Designers themselves work in conjunction with other functions from technologists, suppliers and buyers to create the finished garment. It is really about education of all parts of the chain and Wrap research shows that to reduce the impact of clothing, focus should be on extending the active life of clothing."

Of course, it isn’t just ingenuity in terms of patternmaking and fabric recycling that’s important for brands to consider. Minimising electricity and water usage are also vital aspects of an overall commitment to waste reduction. A lot of energy is consumed, for example, in the processes and transportation involved with garment production. So even by opting to produce what they can locally, brands can work towards reducing their footprint overall. And then there is water — of which the clothing and textiles industry is one of the largest consumers in the world. A single mill in China can use up to 200 tons of water for every ton of fabric that it dyes, for instance. As a result, many rivers run with the colours of the season — a sight that might at first appear attractive, but is actually the result of untreated toxic dye run off from textile mills.

It is quite scary to think just how wasteful the garment industry really is. Because, based on an estimated annual global textile production of 60 billion kilograms of fabric, the estimated energy and water needed to produce that fabric is nothing short of mind blowing: 1,074 billion KWh of electricity and between 6 – 9 trillion litres of water. With that in mind, low impact dyeing and creative production practices are more important now than ever before. Approaches like this can go a long way to helping address some of these issues, brand-by-brand. And it is simply a matter of positive problem solving wherever possible. All of the brands beneath Well Made Clothes’ Minimal Waste banner are committed to producing products using minimal waste patternmaking techniques, or giving dead stock new life in creative ways.

It’s not just important for brands to address their own production processes, though, but also to encourage customers to do the same. According to Forbes, we now purchase 400% more clothing today than we did 20 years ago. A fact put into harsh perspective when you consider the temporary nature of most of these clothes. Sandy Black’s The Sustainable Fashion Handbook points out, for example, that the average party top is now worn only 1.7 times before being thrown away. So clearly there is room for improvement. Patagonia is a progressive company that encourages people to extend the lifecycle of their garments and to recycle them once they are truly worn out. While Leigh Mapledoram of Wrap also points to the fact that it’s about the type of clothing we are buying. He believes that investing in timeless and versatile fashion offers the biggest opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of clothing. “If the average life of clothes could be extended by just nine months,” he says. “It could reduce carbon, water and waste footprints by 20-30%.”

Obviously, waste minimisation needs to be an industry-wide commitment. Beyond the brands and consumers themselves, fabric mills and other producers in the supply chain also have a vital role to play in this process. And, although a zero-waste fashion industry is quite unlikely at this stage, it is vitally important that we encourage more brands and collaborators to take ownership of their own waste practices. Because, in order to really initiate wide-scale change, we need all parties to get behind the cause of waste minimisation. On a personal level, small shifts in attitude can also go a long way. And, ultimately, it should be as routine as recycling our wine bottles in the yellow bins each fortnight. The planet — and your wardrobe — will certainly thank you for it.

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