After the time of year where we generate more retail sales in North America than at any other time of the year, I got to thinking about the other end of that stream. The end of life of the items that were purchased. Specifically, I thought about clothing, I was most concerned about how fast “fashion” moves. Having seen some of the abhorrent conditions the workers who make these products have to endure, but that is not what I was thinking about today. I was curious how much clothing garbage is generated. I am certain that number has increased year over year. I am not sure we know much about the impact this has on the environment and the people who produce these products.
According to the Recycling Council of Ontario, North Americans send over 10 million tonnes of clothing to landfill every year, and this was in 2017. This waste either ends up in a dump or it gets burned, which releases more harmful carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In order to put this into perspective, 10 million tonnes is equivalent to 41 blue whales. And the worst part of all of this is 95% of this could have been reused or recycled. This amounts to 37 kilograms for the average person.
Beyond this the textile industry is depleting non renewable resources and emitting massive quantities of greenhouse gasses, adding to the greenhouse gasses that are released by these same items are thrown out.
The impact of this waste is felt, and will be felt, most where the items we purchase are produced. We are largely protected from the environmental effects of this by the distance between where these items are produced and where they are consumed. As our climate begins to change, as a result of our habits, it will affect the countries where these items are produced first. The very places that are least able to absorb the impact. As it is with most aspects of life though, this is not irreversible, or a bygone conclusion.
What can we do about this? Some of this is common sense but...
Reuse what you can.
Donate extra clothing, even on a personal level, to organizations that can use/allocate them.
Shop second hand.
Don't support corporations that over produce.
Shop/support brands that have a formal policy to not over produce and actively work to protect the environment.
The loudest message to corporations is a financial one. Your dollars can make a difference. Choose wisely. Our futures and those of our children, and grandchildren, and for many generations yet to come, depend on it.