In our consumer-driven society, fashion trends change every season, leading to a constant influx of new clothes. While it might be tempting to throw away old clothes that reality is, throwing away old clothes causes waste in landfills, and this waste has far-reaching consequences.
Landfills are essentially giant garbage dumps where our waste goes to decompose over time. While many items will eventually break down and biodegrade in landfills, textiles are not one of them. In fact, the decomposition of fabric can cause a number of environmental problems, including the emission of greenhouse gases, water pollution, and soil contamination. Here are five factual examples that demonstrate why throwing old clothes away causes waste in landfills.
1. Clothes do not biodegrade while in a landfill
One of the most significant problems with throwing old clothes away is that they do not biodegrade while in a landfill. Unlike food waste or other organic matter, clothes are made up of synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic. These materials are not biodegradable, meaning they cannot be broken down by bacteria or other natural processes in the same way that organic matter can.
Instead, clothes remain intact in landfills for hundreds of years, taking up space and contributing to the ever-growing piles of waste. This is a significant problem, as landfills are quickly running out of space, and new ones are often difficult to locate and permit due to local opposition.
2.Clothes emit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and Methane gas (CH4)
When clothes are buried in a landfill, they begin to decompose, releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane gas (CH4), trap heat in the earth's atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
Methane gas, in particular, is a potent greenhouse gas that is 28 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. The decomposition of clothes in landfills is a major contributor to methane gas emissions, making it a significant global warming problem.
According to a study conducted by the UK government, the textile industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, making it the second-largest polluting industry after oil. This highlights the severity of the issue and the need for us to find solutions to reduce the impact of clothing waste.
3. Landfills contribute to water pollution
In addition to emitting greenhouse gases, landfills also contribute to water pollution. When clothes and other materials decompose in landfills, they can release toxic chemicals and heavy metals into the soil and groundwater. These pollutants can contaminate nearby water sources, making them unsafe for drinking and recreation.
This is particularly concerning in areas where landfills are located near bodies of water or in areas with high groundwater levels. In these areas, the risk of water pollution from landfill waste is particularly high, and can have serious implications for public health.
4. Clothes can take hundreds of years to decompose in landfills
Clothes that are thrown away can take hundreds of years to decompose in landfills. In the meantime, they take up valuable space and contribute to environmental problems. This is a significant issue, considering that Americans throw away around 80 pounds of clothing per year, and much of it ends up in landfills.
To put this into perspective, a cotton shirt can take up to two years to decompose, while a nylon pair of tights can take up to 40 years. A polyester dress can take over 200 years to decompose, which means that the clothes we throw away today will still be sitting in landfills hundreds of years from now.
Why is Textile Recycling Good?
Every year, millions of tons of textile waste are generated globally. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the US alone generated 16.9 million tons of textile waste in 2017, with only 15.2% of it being recycled. One of the main advantages of textile recycling is that it reduces waste in landfills. Landfills are already overburdened with waste, and textile waste takes up significant space, making them fill up even faster.
Textile recycling also conserves energy and resources. The production of new textiles requires a significant amount of energy and resources, including water, fossil fuels, and chemicals. Recycling textiles helps to conserve these resources by reducing the need for virgin materials. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, recycling one ton of textiles can save 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space, 27,000 gallons of water, and 17 trees. Moreover, textile recycling requires less energy than producing new textiles, which results in lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Another advantage of textile recycling is that it can create job opportunities and stimulate local economies. The textile recycling industry creates jobs in sorting, processing, and selling recycled textiles. Moreover, by recycling textiles locally, we can stimulate local economies by creating a market for recycled textiles. This can help to keep textile waste out of landfills and create a sustainable and circular economy.
Textile recycling also promotes sustainable fashion and reduces the environmental impact of the fashion industry. The fashion industry is one of the largest contributors to environmental pollution, from water pollution due to dyeing and finishing processes, to the use of non-renewable resources and carbon emissions during production and transportation. By recycling textiles, we can reduce the need for new textile production, which can help to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry. Moreover, recycled textiles can be used to produce new clothing items, which can promote sustainable fashion and reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry.
Why is Choosing Organic Textile Better?
While both options have their benefits, choosing organic textiles is ultimately better for the environment and for your health.
Organic textiles are made from natural materials that are grown without the use of pesticides or other harmful chemicals. These materials are often certified by third-party organizations, such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), which ensures that the materials meet strict environmental and social criteria. Organic cotton, for example, is grown without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which reduces soil contamination, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.
In contrast, textile recycling involves breaking down used textiles into their component fibers and using those fibers to create new textiles or other products. While textile recycling does reduce waste and conserve resources, it is not without its downsides. The process of recycling textiles can be energy-intensive and requires chemicals that can be harmful to the environment. Additionally, not all textiles can be recycled, and the recycled products may not be as high quality as the original textiles.
One of the most significant advantages of choosing organic textiles over textile recycling is the reduced environmental impact. Organic textiles are made from sustainable materials that do not rely on harmful chemicals or energy-intensive processes. This reduces carbon emissions and water pollution, making it a more sustainable option for the planet. Additionally, the production of organic textiles often involves fair labor practices and supports small-scale farmers, which benefits local communities and promotes social responsibility.
Another advantage of organic textiles is their superior quality and durability. Organic cotton, for example, is known for its softness and breathability, making it a comfortable and long-lasting option for clothing and bedding. Organic textiles are also less likely to contain harmful chemicals that can irritate the skin or cause health problems. Choosing organic textiles is a healthier option for you and your family, as well as for the environment.
Finally, choosing organic textiles sends a message to the textile industry and supports sustainable practices. By choosing products that are sustainably produced, you are supporting companies that prioritize environmental responsibility and social equity. This helps to drive demand for organic textiles and encourages the industry to shift towards more sustainable practices. As consumer demand for sustainable products grows, companies will be more likely to invest in sustainable production methods and reduce their environmental impact.