Over 1 million tonnes of textiles are thrown away every year in the UK alone. More than half of them are recyclable, however the amount of textile recycled in the UK is less than 25%.
Textile recovery and recycling provides important environmental benefits.
Textile recovery reduces the need for landfill space. Synthetic fibres cause problems in landfill because they will not decompose, while natural fibres like wool decompose and produce greenhouse gases like methane, which contribute to global warning. It also helps to relieve pressure on the production of new materials. Textile recovery also saves energy as fibres don’t have to be manufactured or transported form abroad.
If every person in the UK bought one reclaimed woollen garment every year it would save over 371 gallons of water and 480 tonnes of dyes.
The three common ways to recycle clothing are:
Using fabrics made from recycled materials, such as recycled bottles.
Upcycling unwanted fabrics, offcuts and other pieces of fabric that are going to be thrown away.
Re-using pre-existing clothing, so it can be used again.
Fabrics made form recycled materials are now more commonplace in the fashion industry, with recycled polyester made from plastic drinks bottles being made by companies such as Armani and Marks and Spencer. Armani Jeans have been using eco fabrics since 1995, when they started to develop a process to recycle denim. The technology developed and they use materials with up to 60% recycled wool and cross dyed cotton. They also use organic wool in their knitwear products as well as fair trade cotton from Peru and Bolivia.
Reasons to recycle
Landfill sites pose a threat to groundwater. When it rains, water drains through all the rubbish and picks up chemicals and hazardous waste from whatever happens to be in the landfill. Dyes and bleaches used in clothing and textile collect in water at eh bottom of the landfill site in large amounts and can be 200 times more toxic than raw sewage.
If we re-use existing fibres and textiles there is no need to make fabrics, saving on raw materials such as wool, cotton or synthetic fibres. Doing this saves on the energy of the manufacturing process and of transporting the fabric. It also cuts down on the pollution caused by dying, washing and all the other processes involved in fabric manufacturing.