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WHY ARE CLOTHES SO HARD TO RECYCLE?

There are large amounts of clothes being thrown away every year which is having a negative impact on the environment. In order to combat this issue, can we turn unwanted clothes into something useful?


It has been a researched fact that 12% of clothes in women wardrobes are considered “inactive”, which in other words, has not or is not being worn. Not only are some clothes just sitting around and collecting dust, which we are all shameful for, we have also got garments in our cupboards and in drawers which no longer fit, is no longer in fashion and or the quality is no longer what it once was. This is all understandable. No one is expected to keep every single piece of clothing for their entire life. Not only is this not logically possible but it just does not make any sense. So, what should we do with clothes that we no longer want in our possession?


About 85% of all textiles thrown away in the United States, which is roughly 13 million tonnes (in 2017), are either being dumped into landfills or being burned. The average American has been estimated to discard of about 37kg of garments each year. Globally, an estimate of 92 million tonnes of textile waste is cumulated every year and the equivalent to a rubbish truck full of clothes ends up on landfill sites every second. Putting that into context, that is 60 rubbish trucks full of clothes being dumped into landfill sites in one single minute. At this rate, by 2030, we are estimated to throw away 134 million tonnes of textiles a year.


a landfill full of thrown away clothes which were meant to be recycled

Most of our clothes will never get recycled. 99% will end up burnt or in landfills. Our earth at this point is not capable of absorbing the huge amount of clothing that is produced each year. But what if all those clothes could be save and turned into something else? There is a place in Prato, Italy that has mastered a method to transform old scraps into new clothes. What happens there is unique. There are hundreds of companies in that small district, and each specialises in one specific aspect of the process. Whether it is spinning, weaving or designing. Today, in that town, it says that they process 15% of all recycled clothes in the world. Say you have a shirt, if it is too old for the charity shop, it gets sent for recycling. In Prato, it gets sorted by colour, torn apart, washed and then the new recycled material is taken and transformed to make new clothes with minimal waste. In other words, you donate clothes, and they arrive in Prato from lots of different countries, all the garments that cannot be sold second hand, is taken to this company nearby. Here, not only are they separated by colour, but also by material. About 25 tonnes of clothes is recycled every day there. The clothes are put into a carbonising machine, which eliminates impurities from the wall, then it goes into a giant washing machine where they are shredded, cleaned and dried. The result Is your old clothes being turned into fluffy wool fibres. They are stored until a fashion brand buys them and makes clothes. Many people might see this concept and think that they are making clothes from rubbish but really its all about reusing resources which is going to save the planet. Recycling wool is great for the environment. Carbon dioxide emissions have more than halved compared to when clothes are made from new material.


We have an immediate impact on animal welfare because you reduce the stress that you must put on animals to get the wool. Almost complete elimination of dyes because the wool which is recycled is assortment by colour. This is a method that has been passed on from father to son. The culture in Prato is the kind of culture that we need across the entire fashion industry because it is based on collaboration that is local but can show how if these things are taken internationally or on a global scale, the entire industry could benefit. The people of this town were forced to recycle clothes because they couldn’t afford new ones. Now their methods which have been honed over that past 100 years could offer a way forward in a more sustainable fashion world.


Another place where recycled clothes end up is in a recycling factory in Port Klang, Malaysia. The unwanted clothes come from Singapore, Malaysia, and as far afield as Australia. They are sorted at a zero-waste facility to save them from the landfill. In Singapore, the recycling journey for these textiles begins in yellow bins, which can be found in neighbourhoods like Hougang, Yishun and Pasir Ris. More bins will be deployed in states like Sengkang. The textiles deposited there are collected and taken to Johor to be packed, before they are sent to the recycling factory. Almost globally we recycled and separate our rubbish into different materials; paper, general waste, glass and metal, but there isn’t a way for recycling textiles. Sure, you can donate to charities but even charities are inundated with large donations. Once there, clothes are sorted into over 500 categories. Clothes are examined as to whether they can be resold but for those which cannot be, they are tightly packed and sold to respective brands. For example, light cotton is tightly packed and shipped to buyers looking for material to make cleaning cloth. Some fabrics are also refashioned or upcycled into new products like denim bags made from unwanted jeans and other denim textiles. If the textiles cannot be repurposed, it will be used for energy release, what they do is put the material into a kiln. It helps to provide energy in the kiln and in the end of that process the residual (material) is blended into the concrete, so it avoids landfill. About 55% of the items that go through this factory are reused and 20% are repurposed. Some textiles are broken down to be respun into recycled fibre yarns, what is left is turned into fuel.


A perfect example of a brand which is using recycled fabric as opposed to using fabric made from new yarns, is Ama Thea The Label. They are deeply passionate about helping with the current problems faced within the garment industry. They take extra percussions as a brand to reduce the amount of waste that they produce as a brand from start to finish of producing a style, this includes paper wastage during the pattern making stage. They are also conscious of their packaging materials and whether or not that contributes to waste as well. They pride themselves with their high garment quality in order to ensure that they produce the best long lasting items of clothing to reduce the high amounts of garments being thrown away every second. They are currently a made-to-order brand which also means that they will not over produce and end up with unsold garments.


To shop from the sustainable and ethical clothing brand Ama Thea The Label, click here


Follow their journey and explore the endless ways that they are making our planet better @amatheathelabel

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