In the USA alone, over 14 million tons of clothing is thrown away each year, with some of these garments taking up to 200 years to fully decompose. The rise of fast fashion is a major contributor to this huge accumulation of waste in our landfills as fashion fads and trends seem to last shorter and shorter periods of time. While that leather jacket may have seemed like a great purchase at the time, the environmental impact it will have when it's no longer in style isn't so trendy.
The waste associated with clothing and fashion doesn't just occur at the end of a product's lifecycle, in fact just the production of clothing is harmful to the environment. It requires approximately 2,700 liters of water to make a single cotton t-shirt, and increasingly more water for more complex textiles.
Another aspect often overlooked in the environmental impact of our clothing's life cycle is the wash cycle. Notice how full your lint trap gets after you dry your clothing? Well that lint didn't just come out of nowhere! Dryer lint is made up of fibers that have been released from your clothing, and does not account for the polluting fibers released into the water during the wash cycle. These released fibers become a pretty significant issue when the clothing is made of polyester, which is a synthetic fabric made from petroleum. With each wash of your polyester clothing, those toxic fibers (also known as micro plastics) are released into the water, leaving a lasting impact on our oceans, wildlife, and environment as a whole. Some researchers estimate that for every 100,000 people, over 1 KG of these micro plastics are released from clothing during the wash process every day!
The Trouble with Recycling
Most of the textiles used in clothing can be recycled, but due to the complexity of the process it is hardly ever done. It is estimated that only 12% of clothing materials end up being recycled, which when compared to the 29% recycling rate of plastic bottles (which is still way too low!) shows just how much waste our clothing really makes. The major problem with recycling clothing is the blends of materials used in the manufacturing process. Most clothing is made up of a multitude of materials including polyester, cotton, metal and more. Unfortunately due to the complexity of our clothing, it is extremely difficult to effectively separate and sort these materials. Due to the high labor costs of manually sorting clothing, most recycling facilities and programs avoid it all together.
What Can You Do?
If recycling is not an option, what can truly be done? Like the plastic free alternatives Life UNpacked sells for traditional bathroom products, there are eco friendly brands out there that while not perfect, do offer more sustainable clothing options. Using more sustainable materials like cotton or bamboo (like our amazing floss options that you should totally check out!) over harmful micro plastic filled materials like polyester, offers a step in the right direction. However, no matter the materials used, the major problem with our clothing consumption habits is the short product life spans we've become accustomed to. At Life UNpacked we fully embrace the idea of minimalism in the bathroom, only using what is absolutely necessary, and using sustainable alternatives for these absolutely necessary products. This same perspective can be applied to clothing, as well as life in general. We encourage you to consider the environmental impact of your purchases, look for ways to reuse products and expand their lifespans. By understanding the impact of our actions and our habits, and adjusting accordingly, we can make a real difference in a world consumed by garbage and pollution. The smallest changes make a much bigger impact than you may think!