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Trash Haute Couture: The Confluence of Fashion and Waste

Madhulika Jadon




Fashion serves as a universal language, intertwining diverse cultures and histories. With the advent of technology and global connectivity, fashion trends now traverse the globe at lightning speed, transcending traditional barriers and inspiring individuals across continents. Fashion weeks in major cities like Paris, Milan, New York, and London have become global spectacles, showcasing the latest designs and setting the tone for upcoming seasons. But, have you ever wondered where the discarded apparel ends up? Do they get recycled? Upcycled? Donated? Or do they end up in landfills or ashes?

It would be quite surprising to know that 85% of our clothes end up in landfills or get burned. 92 million tonnes of textile waste are produced every year. To put things in perspective, this means that the equivalent of a truck full of clothes ends up in landfills every second. The throwaway culture has worsened progressively over the years. At present, most items are worn only seven to ten times before being tossed, which is a decline of more than 35% in just 15 years. Dyeing and finishing, the procedures involving the application of color and other chemicals to fabrics, account for 3% of global CO2 emissions and more than 20% of worldwide water pollution. These two processes, along with yarn preparation and fiber production, exert the most significant strain on resources due to their energy-intensive nature and reliance on fossil fuel energy. In addition to being a substantial contributor to water pollution, the fast fashion industry also leads to substantial water waste. To put it into perspective, producing just one t-shirt requires approximately 2,700 liters of water, which is equivalent to an individual's drinking water for 900 days. Furthermore, a single laundry load consumes between 50 and 60 liters of water.

Even if we were diligent about recycling our old garments, it is essential to acknowledge that a significant portion of these textiles, approximately 60 percent, are not initially recyclable. Consequently, they often end up in landfills or are incinerated. Many of our clothing items contain plastic components, with synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic being common examples. These fibers, known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), are derived from crude oil, rendering them incredibly challenging to repurpose or recycle. Unfortunately, despite the availability of numerous eco-friendly alternatives, the fashion industry continues to employ plastic fibers in its garments due to the lack of regulations or laws governing their usage.

The fashion industry's overproduction of goods by around 30-40% per season exacerbates the issue. When considering the presence of plastic fibers in our clothing, it becomes apparent that our garments eventually contribute to the pollution of our oceans with microplastics. Nearly 10% of microplastics dispersed in the ocean each year come from textiles. This pollution harms marine life and exacerbates the challenges associated with climate change.

To address the environmental impacts of fast fashion at its source and to find a niche in this increasingly competitive market, some manufacturers are aiming to develop “eco-fashions” and are designing the fashion of the future. Spain’s Ecoalf creates shoes from algae and recycled plastic as part of its Upcycling the Oceans collection. Outdoor gear retailer Patagonia, based in California, has been producing fleece jackets using polyester from recycled bottles since 1993, working with Polartec, a Massachusetts-based textile designer. Cambodia-based Tonlé uses surplus fabric from mass clothing manufacturers to create zero-waste fashion collections. It uses more than 97 percent of the material it receives and turns the rest into paper.

Consumers also play a crucial role in driving change. By making mindful choices, such as buying fewer but higher-quality garments, supporting sustainable brands, and extending the lifespan of their clothing through repairs and donations, individuals can contribute to a more sustainable fashion ecosystem. Additionally, raising awareness about the environmental impact of fast fashion and advocating for stronger regulations can help shape a more responsible industry. The confluence of fashion and waste presents an opportunity for transformation. It calls for collective action and innovation to revolutionize the way we produce, consume, and dispose of fashion.


Citations

  1. Martina Igini, “10 Concerning Fast Fashion waste Statistics”, EARTH.ORG, https://earth.org/statistics-about-fast-fashion-waste/#:~:text=92%20Million%20Tonnes%20of%20Textiles,on%20 landfill%20 sites%20every%20 second

  2. Valentina Portela, “The Fashion Industry Waste is Drastically Contributing to Climate Change”, CALPIRG, https://pirg.org/california/articles/the-fashion-industry-waste-is-drastically-contributing-to-climate-change/

  3. “Putting the brakes on fast fashion”, UNEP, https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/putting-brakes-fast-fashion



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