What is the Issue with the Textile Industry?
The textile industry is one of the most polluting, unethical and wasteful industries on earth. It’s actually the second most polluting industry after oil and before the livestock industry. The textile problem can be divided into three categories: pollution, ethics and waste.
Regarding pollution, the facts are quite appalling. Worldwide, cotton, one the main fabrics used in the textile industry; covers 2.5% of the land crop, uses 16% of pesticides and is the fourth most GMO (genetically modified) crop produced in the world. Furthermore, the industry is a gigantic water consumer: you need about 200 tonnes of water to produce 1 tonne of textile. To bring it to a smaller and more comprehensive scale, you need between 10,000 and 20,000 litres of water to make one kilogram of cotton (that’s the weight of about two pairs of jeans). The increasing use of synthetic materials to make our clothes, sofas, mattresses and the likes causes great environmental pollution, as they release micro-plastics in the ocean when washed, on top of being made out of oil to start with. Finally, around 8,000 different chemicals are used in the various textile production processes. 8,000!
Ethically speaking, the fashion industry has quite a lot of progress to make. Most textiles are manufactured in Asia and South America, where employees work in very poor environmental and social conditions. 12 hour days, low wages, and child labour are common amongst the factories that produce textile. Employees work in unsafe buildings, as the dreadful collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in 2013 which killed more than 1,130 garment workers, illustrated. It is far from being an isolated incident.
Waste-wise, the situation is not brighter. Official figures regarding the amount of clothing produced each year do not exist, but it is estimated that between 80 and 100 billion pieces of clothing are produced each year. That is a lot of hidden waste. The US has, for instance, generated 15 million tonnes of textile waste each year for the past 20 years. There are 320 million inhabitants in the USA; that’s almost 47 pieces of clothing per inhabitants per year. In 2016, Britons bought 1.13 million tonnes of clothing, which generated a total amount of 26.2 million tonnes of CO2. The UK sent 235 million items of clothing to landfill. This is quite an outrage, especially when we know that almost 100% of clothing items are recyclable.
What is the Role of the Forum?
Like any other environmental issue, it is easy to feel overwhelmed when one becomes acquainted with the problems of the textile industry. However, this is not the attitude of the London Textile Forum, which aims to tackle all the issues mentioned above one bit at a time.
The primary aim of the Forum is to support the development of strategies that increase the diversion of textiles waste from disposal in London. This can be achieved through London-based and national initiatives.
The three principal goals are:
- To keep textile out the waste stream.
- To identify and overcome barriers that hinder the collection, processing and potential market development opportunities for textile re-use and recycling.
- To monitor and support relevant projects developed by members while providing a platform for the latter to openly discuss the issues surrounding the industry.
What is Happening this Year?
The forum is happening again this year, with four events in 2018. All events are organised to discuss, debate and bring solutions to the textile industry’s issues, with a panel of relevant speakers and an open and inclusive roundtable discussion.
In January, we were focused on the issues surrounding the clothing industry and came up with recommendations and actions.
This March we will speak about the non-clothing industry; which includes mattresses, sofas, towels, bedding, blankets… Pretty much anything you use every day that you don’t wear.
The next meetings will be about how to encourage small businesses to take a leap toward more sustainable practices, and how to raise public awareness on the issue.
How can You get Involved?
As I wrote above, it is easy (and legitimate) to feel overwhelmed with environmental and social issues, especially in the textile industry as it is such an extensive part of our daily lives.
If the work done by the Forum interests you, please join us! We currently have almost a 100 members, who are dedicated to making the textile industry more sustainable. Unfortunately, members cannot be individuals; but if you belong to one of the following categories, please contact us at N.firstname.lastname@example.org. London local authorities, non-profit, collectors, waste management industry, trade bodies, school and community groups and relevant academic and research groups.
As an individual, there are still ways you can get involved. The good news about doing something positive is that it often involves buying less and better, which can only benefit your wallet. Here are the four steps toward a more sustainable wardrobe:
1) Never throw away what you do not wear. Whether ripped, holed or stained, a piece of garment can always be recycled. When doing a sort-out in your closet, always either recycle or, if they’re in a decent state, donate the piece of clothing you do not want anymore. If you throw them away, they will end up in landfill, where they will contribute to producing greenhouse gas emissions and we don’t need more of these.
Here is a guide on how to recycle in London: http://westlondonwaste.gov.uk/reduce-waste/textiles/recycle/.
Sort out your clothes. Did you know that UK adults only wear 44% of the clothes they own? That is not even half of our wardrobes! Try to go through your clothes, understand what you wear, and donate or recycle the rest.
2) Shop Responsibly. This is the last piece of advice, as it is the only one which will cost you money. There are three things to remember:
Know yourself, your body and your tastes: Understand what suits you, what you like and what you’ll wear. Don’t follow trends just because they exist: good luck with that anyway, as H&M releases 52 trends per year.
Choose where you want to spend your money: try to look for clothing brands that have environmental and social justice at heart; I promise there is an increasing number out there. Choose “Made in the UK” which will involve more social protection for the workers who made your clothes and tighter restrictions regarding environmental protection. So yes, the prices will be higher, as the minimum wage in the UK is definitely not the same as in Bangladesh; but then, you probably will buy only what you really like and need and a garment which will last you years and not months.
Do not throw your household waste on the street, from pillows to mattresses. Call companies that recycle these items or contact your local council which can take it away or either recycle it or incinerate it.