Article written by blog writer, Jan 8, 2021|
In 2018, 17 million tons of textile waste ended up in landfills, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency, making up 5.8 percent of the total MSW generation that year.
According to the World Resources Institute, it takes 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton shirt. Textiles can take up to 200+ years to decompose in landfills.
Moreover, many people may be shocked to learn that 84 percent of clothing ends up in landfills or incinerators. In New York City alone, more than 400 million pounds of clothes are wasted each year! With these numbers in mind, we thought it would be useful to explore what exactly is driving this unsustainable behavior and what kind of impact it has on the environment. In this post, we’re covering everything you need to know about why managing textile waste is so challenging, the impacts it has on the environment, what brands are doing to reduce textile waste, and how your business can take action.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TEXTILE WASTE
The EPA estimates that in 2017, of the 16.9 million tons of textile waste generated in the United States, only 15.2% was recycled, which resulted in 11.2 million tons of textile waste ending up in landfills. Since the 1990s, consumer behavior has shifted towards shopping for new clothes frequently, but as consumers purchase more clothing, more frequently, that means textile waste ends up in landfills faster. To put it into perspective, in less than 20 years, the volume of clothing Americans threw away each year doubled and is likely to triple if we don’t make a change. The reason for such a drastic increase? Fast fashion. To meet the high demands of the latest fashion trends, many retailers produce inexpensive, non-durable clothing. Because of this, fast fashion retailers (like Forever21, Zara, and more) may churn out new clothing multiple times a month. Tasha Lewis, a professor at Cornell University’s Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design explains, “It used to be four seasons in a year; now it may be up to 11 or 15 or more.”
A factor that most people don’t ever consider is the impact our clothes have on the environment. Textile production requires significant amounts of chemicals, water, energy, and other natural resources. According to the World Resources Institute, it takes 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton shirt. And when consumers throw away clothing in the garbage, not only does it waste money and resources, but it can take 200+ years for the materials to decompose in a landfill. During the decomposition process, textiles generate greenhouse methane gas and leach toxic chemicals and dyes into the groundwater and our soil.