Textile waste in the UK: these figures aren’t fabricated

Here at the Clothes Club we are always keen to promote a more socially conscious textile consumption. A phenomenal 70% of textile waste in the UK is comprised of clothes and shoes. Due to seasonal fashion trends, consumers (that’s you and I) tend to discard good quality clothing (4% of each household bin!) when it is no longer fashionable. Because of this throw-away culture, designers focus less on producing durable, quality goods and consumers are encouraged to buy new clothes at a faster rate. In fact, 2.15 million tonnes of new textiles are bought in the UK every year. Moreover the textiles industry generates additional quantities of waste yarn and fabric from scraps during the production process, which adds to our already mountainous proportions of textile waste.

A large proportion of the synthetic fibers that make the journey to our brimming landfill sites do not decompose. The materials that DO decompose (such as wool etc) produce both Methane and Ammonia. Methane is one of the most lethal greenhouse gasses, far more damaging than the infamous CO2 and a key contributor to climate change. Ammonia on the other equally toxic hand is known to increase the Nitrogen in drinking water as well as poisoning the air, which of course is more bad news for us. Despite these troubling realities within the landfill process, the UK has yet to pass any specific legislation to regulate textile waste or indeed encourage its recovery or recycling. But all is not lost! This is where we come in, noble Clothes Clubbers.

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Recycling is the magic word

Recycling! A much loved word here at The Clothes Club. Did you know that roughly one million tonnes of UK textiles goes into landfill every year and the majority of it could be recycled? What better way to combat this than coming to one of our events and giving your old clothes a new, much-loved home.

Recycling is not only great on a micro level (reducing personal waste) but on a macro level, producing our own material reduces textiles imports and therefore balances payments, which means a healthier economy for us, yippee! It also stops the great amount of pollution released when transporting textiles into the UK. Following the shocking death toll of the factory fire in Bangladesh, malpractice from UK textile firms outsourcing labour abroad has been brought into the public consciousness. We are far better off sourcing clothes from the UK rather than contributing to a culture of poor working conditions for workers, coupled with low wages and long hours. Recycling it seems, is the cure to a wide range of social, economic and environmental problems.

There are of course, several ways to recycle or reclaim textiles. The first is in the more industrial sense, in which yarn is unravelled and material is graded into colour and type. This is then shredded into ‘shoddy’ which is then re-spun for weaving or knitting. The process is brilliant because colour sorting means no nasty chemicals have to be used to re-dye. The energy intensive process we use in the UK to make textiles from virgin material can be reduced by 50% when reclaiming fibre.

Another way to recycle clothes is through the process of upcycling, you would be surprised what some fabric dye and a set of new buttons can do to a garment. Look out for tips on how to give garments a new lease of life at future Clothes Club events, we have plenty up our sleeves.

Lastly there is the recycling of whole garments, be it through taking clothes to local clothes banks, charity shops, jumble sales or through swapping them at fun events such as the Clothes Club. Any leftover clothes from our events currently makes its way to our local TRAID or Oxfam.

You can find more information on textile waste in the UK here and here.

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