According to a study published by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, over the past 15 years, we have doubled the amount of clothing we buy per year. Most clothing is worn an average of 7 times before it is thrown away. Around the world, in one year, we throw clothing worth about $460 billion. And all these clothes are in very good condition – they could still be used for several years. The Macarthur Foundation has also calculated that by 2050 – if the market (and the world) continue in the same direction – we will throw 150 millions of tons of clothing per year. To visualize what this number represents, imagine the Empire State Building full of clothing and multiply this volume 2000 times. Yes, in 30 years, every year, we will throw away the equivalent of 2000 Empire State Buildings filled with textiles. But just this year we’re going to throw 240 of them away – that’s not bad either, isn’t it? Knowing that there are 251 skyscrapers in Manhattan, one can say that we throw approximately the equivalent of all the skyscrapers in Manhattan filled with clothes.
Our clothes finishe in the landfills of poor countries
Ah! And if you think your clothes will be recycled, I have bad news. Globally, only 1% of clothing will be recycled to create new clothing. I’m not talking about “upcycling” or circular economy. Of course, repairing clothes, selling them, donating or creating unique items, will extend their lifespan by about 5 years… Even so, sooner or later, they will end up in the trash. A small part of our clothing dedicated to recycling will be transformed into insulating materials… A very small part will biodegrade naturally. But one thing is certain: 73% of the clothes we get rid of will end up in a garbage can and will be compressed, burned or sent to third world countries that we use as cheap landfills.
Microplastique is everywhere
And when I say that clothes end up “in landfills”, in reality, they end up “in the nature”. Of course, we do not see waste in our environments, everything seems clean. But it is because we are fortunate to live in rich countries that can preserve their nature and pay poor countries to store our waste. Unfortunately, in nature everything circulates. Even if we send our garbage thousands of miles away, it does not stay there peacefully. The tissues gradually begins to decompose. Given the amount of synthetic fibres used in our clothing, we end up with tons of microfiber particles that cannot be biodegraded. Our synthetic fibres become microplastic particles that penetrate the land and reach the sea. In this way, they integrate our global ecosystem. Now we find microplastics everywhere: in our water, in our food, in the rain. Apparently, it turns out that every year, with our food, we already swallow an amount of plastic that matches the size of a credit card. Add to that the fact that babies are born with microplastics in their bodies
I recommend you a NY Times article that shows us the existence of a new sub-marine continent – created entirely of plastic and collected by water currents. In addition to this underwater continent, by 2050 we will have more plastic than fish in the seas and oceans.
So, what do we do now?
1) First – don’t throw away clothes you already own...
… even if they are made of “microfibre”. On the contrary, you should start taking good care of them to use them as long as possible so that they do not end up in the trash too quickly. And don’t wash them after just one use. There is a method to refresh your clothes – you can put them in a freezer for one night to remove all the smells – I tested it and I must admit: it works! Washing and drying release huge amounts of microplastics. I advise you to wash them at 30°C, in a delicate cycle, because the more friction there is, the more microplastics will be released into nature. Also, drying in the machine is to be avoided for the same reason.
2) Prohibit the purchase of non-biodegradable synthetic fibres…
… polyester, polyamide, polyurethane, elastane, acrylic, nylon and, if possible, recycled polyester. Viscose and modal must also be added to this list. Even if in these two cases they are not synthetic fibres, because they are not derived from petroleum and come from cellulose, they are unfortunately not biodegradable either. Their decomposition will end at the stage of microfibre which is one of the components of plastic pollution of the sea. Why did I add recycled polyester? Isn’t it good to recycle plastic? Unfortunately, this process requires a lot of chemicals that are harmful to the environment. So, even if we want to «buy» a good conscience by choosing recycled plastic materials, we take on our consciousness the burden of pollution created during its production. Ah! And be carefull : sometimes you have the impression of buying a cotton product and you don’t notice that there are 5% synthetic fibers in it. We are already swimming in plastic. Choose 100% biodegradable and natural clothing – there are more and more.
3) Choose natural and biodegradable fabrics that have no ecological impact.
These are: linen, juta, tencel (lyocell), hemp, to name but a few of the most popular. If you ever need to buy cotton, take organic one. However, if you can avoid it, it’s better that way, because to produce cotton, even organic, we need a huge amount of clean water. Instead of cotton, choose linen and lyocell (tencel). The manufacture of these fabrics does not produce chimical by-products harmful to the environment and the plantations require very little water and no pesticides. Don’t buy bamboo fabrics either – it has recently become popular. Although it is biodegradable, its production is unfortunately super chemical and polluting.
4) Avoid fast fashion stores at all costs.
Fast fashion brands prepare 52 collections a year, one for every week. We know very well that if we see an item that we like today, we can be pretty sure that it can be impossible to buy it the following week. Clothes that are not sold are almost immediately thrown in the trash, often after spending only a week in stores. And let us not be seduced by the «ecological» collections of these shops. Organic clothing represents a very small percentage of their collections. Even if the fabric is «ecological», it is not necessarily “ethical”. Let’s not forget that large groups have set up their sewing workshops in poor countries where the workforce often works in very precarious conditions.
5) Don’t find the excuse : “if a product already exists, why not buy it…
… it will end up in the trash anyway, whether we buy it or not?” Although it seems logical, it is not as easy as it seems. When buying an item, we send information of a request for this type of clothing. This gives the green light to launch a new production and, often, to double the amount of articles created afterwards. All because our purchase just proved the existence of a demand.
6) Change your vision what means “to be in fashion”.
Big brands are just as harmful as fast fashion. Do not trust the names – and therefore the advertising machine that follows them – but the ethics of each brand. Find clothes created by small designers that give you the assurance that their product is not only 100% natural and biodegradable, but also that it is created respecting every employee in the production line. Personally, from now on, if I see a dress with a label that says it’s made of synthetic fibers, I now consider it a big garbage bag. And who wants to carry a garbage bag? Even if it will have the name of a big couture house – ok, I know there are some who will wear it as long as there is a name on it 😉
This post is also available in: French