Textiles - spare a thought for trashed textiles.
The bargain t-shirt you wore once.
Your kid's teddy, slumped in the corner,
forgotten since Christmas.
That towel that isn't "plush" enough anymore.
Have you ever really thought
about the impact of textile waste?
Every year, Lethbridgians throw away the equivalent of 65 t-shirts per person.1
That's like you throwing away more than one t-shirt every week for a year.
How much post-consumer textile waste could be reused or recycled, but goes in our landfills instead?4
The textile industry has a huge environmental and social impact.
When we trash an unloved teddy, we waste the resources and effort that created it and we add to our growing landfill challenges.
Textile industry emissions are higher than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, taking up 10% of our annual global carbon budget. 5 Your favourite cotton bath towel likely caused 15 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions.6
The industry has the second highest ecological footprint, hot on the heels of oil and gas.7
But, despite the high energy use in production, transport, and retail, the biggest impact in the textile life-cycle is during consumer use where garment care, including washing, drying, and ironing, all use significant energy.8
The increasing popularity of online sales also has some negative impacts. It is estimated that 30-50% of clothing and shoes bought online are returned.9 While there are some logistical efficiencies gained by efficient route and vehicle use, almost a third of people return purchases, creating double the emissions transporting each item.10
The textile industry is wasteful!
The industry creates waste in all steps of the item life-cycle: in production12, through transport with packaging and pallet use as items are shipped across the world, and at the retail store where packaging, hangers, and tags all increase the waste footprint.11
Consumers have begun to see items as disposable, tossing lightly-used teddys and towels in the garbage and wearing a garment only seven to eight times before throwing it away, creating a huge end-of use footprint.13 Those trashed textiles are filling up landfills and creating leachate and greenhouse gases.
Did you know online shopping returns create huge amounts of waste as the items are often disposed of rather than re-sold?
It might surprise you to know that once those materials are dumped into the landfill they may never break down, particularly synthetic materials. Landfill environments often lack light, water, oxygen and microbes for items to decay, even biodegradable ones, and therefore textiles in the dump probably won’t break down in our lifetimes.14 Continually adding to landfills just fills them up, requiring expensive management and expansion when we need new ones to dump even more stuff.
Remember that cotton tee that went in the trash? It took around 2,650 litres to produce.15 That's over 3.5 years worth of daily drinking water for the average person! In one tee. One. Tee. Not to mention the impacts of chemicals in the water.
The textile industry uses a huge amount of water, but many of the countries where materials are grown or textiles are made are water-stressed. For example, cotton production accounts for 43% of textile weight,16 and uses the most water. China and India are key cotton growing nations but are also highly water-stressed.17
Nitrogen and phosphorus are used heavily for crop production, particularly with conventional cotton, which causes run-off dead zones, deoxygenating our waterways and killing wildlife.
Dyeing materials can take up 150 litres of water per kilogram of fabric. This water is often simply discharged into waterways, unfiltered.18 That cute purple teddy isn’t looking so cute anymore, right?
Nearly 20% of global wastewater is produced for “fashion”.19
Globally, land and water use to produce natural fibres for the textile industry takes up valuable resources that could be used for food production or for the protection of natural ecosystems.20