The fast fashion industry has taken over the world in the past decades and although clothing brands have been making an effort in recent years to make the fashion industry and economy more circular, tonnes of textile waste, most of it from clothing, ends up in landfills each year.
1. Textile waste
From 2000 to 2014, the number of clothing items produced each year doubled, according to consulting firm McKinsey. From the 150 billion new garments made each year about 84% end up in landfills.
Fast fashion retailers like H&M and Zara have set up collecting schemes where customers can drop off old clothes to be recycled, but despite everyone’s best efforts, the US Environmental Protection Agency estimated only about 15% of clothing gets recycled.
2. Compostable clothes
What if part of the solution could be right in your backyard? Several designers have started creating bio-degradable garments that could just be thrown in compost bins and turned into fertilizers.
It’s not as easy as it sounds though. While natural fibres, like cotton, linen, silk or wool, are bio-degradable, in the manufacturing process they are soaked in dyes and other agents that are not as environmentally friendly. Moreover, the stiches are rarely made with cotton sewing thread.
Katie Lopes founded Stripe & Stare, a lingerie brand that makes compostable underwear.
I was beginning to become more aware of the damage the fashion industry was doing to the planet, so it would have been irresponsible not to take this information into account. Producing it right and avoiding the landfill was very important.Katie Lopes, founder Stripe & Stare
Katherine Quigley also founded her own clothing company, Sustain, that only uses natural dies and works with manufacturing companies that accept sewing with cotton thread. “They all want to use polyester, which just means unless you’re cutting out every seam it’s not compostable”, she explained.
Even if you make sure all your clothes are entirely made from natural fibres and organic materials, turning them into compost is still going to be challenging unless you have your own bin the backyard. Since it is so hard to make sure the textiles are entirely bio-degradable, most composting facilities do not accept textile waste.
“Unless a brand guarantees to collect all its own garments, it’s wishful thinking”, said Foulkes-Arellano, who has been studying textile disposal systems in Europe. Collecting schemes and government level regulations need to be set up for compostable clothes to become more widespread.
In the meantime, “what we need to do is just get away from this idea that clothing is disposable”, said Quigley, who advocates for companies to be responsible for the full life cycle of their clothing. “If a piece of polyester clothing actually incorporated the cost of what it takes to recycle or clean up the end-life of that clothing, it would inevitably cost more.” This could turn people back to having less, but more durable and better quality clothes.