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COLUMN: Textile waste a strain on the environment

‘Every action you make to limit your waste improves the world,’ writes Delview student Chayse McDonald
(Contributed photo)

By Chayse McDonald, special to the North Delta Reporter

Delview Secondary student Chayse McDonald. (Submitted photo)
The average Canadian discards 81 pounds of textiles a year.

Clothing has become more attainable for consumers and textile production has roughly doubled since 2000. Whether it’s to follow certain fashion trends or purely because the clothing may be cheap, consumers are buying more clothing than they need. And the effects these textiles have on our environment and our country’s finances are detrimental and need to be addressed.

According to a 2017 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the number of times a piece of clothing is worn has decreased over the past 15 years. These clothes are wasted and the majority are sent to landfills as that is the fastest and easiest solution for many people. Eighty-five per cent of wasted clothing is still wearable, according to chemical engineer and McMaster University graduate Zachary Gray.

Certain materials, such as polyester, take roughly 200 years to biodegrade, staying in landfills for decades. While there, many textiles release greenhouse gases. The textiles also release toxins from dyes and other materials into nearby water sources and the soil below.

In certain landfills, textile materials are burned, releasing more harmful chemicals into the air. Greenhouse gases stay in our atmosphere for many years and are slowly warming our planet, and toxins released by discarded clothing weaken the surrounding environment.

Not only does textile waste in our landfills affect our environment, it also affects our finances.

“Managing landfills is expensive,” says Justin LeBlanc, an environmental advisor at the Recycling Council of BC. “When you have materials that have no place to go, new space needs to be found to put those materials. This costs money — for workers, for land and for any machinery needed.”

SEE ALSO: Metro Vancouver wants the region to repurpose, donate, or repair used clothing

Donation is one of the best options to dispose of your unwanted clothing, but there are still faults to this process.

At second-hand stores, donated clothing is sorted through and, depending on multiple factors, either kept for sale or disposed of. Kelly Drennan, founding executive director of Canadian non-profit Fashion Takes Action, says only half of donated, wearable clothing is put back on the market — the rest is sent to landfills or shipped overseas to developing countries.

LeBlanc says sending that clothing overseas can have a devastating effect on those local economies.

“Clothing shipped to countries overseas takes business away from local owners and any clothing the country does not want will also be sent to a landfill,” he explains. “Canada also sends unwanted clothing overseas to be recycled in centres in those countries. Shipping clothing thousands of kilometers away costs lots of money and also releases greenhouse gas. Ideally, we would deal with our own local waste here.”

The clothing that we buy — both in terms of how it’s made and what becomes of it after it’s purchased — has a significant effect on our environment and affects Canadians in more ways than one might think.

As consumers purchase more clothing, companies mass produce their products to match the demand. The majority of so-called “fast fashion” companies use sweatshops to produce their clothing at a fast pace. Many of those factories produce their clothing in unethical ways, such as treating workers poorly and forcing them to work in unstable conditions.

They also produce a large amount of pollution in the manufacturing process, with a single pair of jeans requiring around 6,800 litres of water to produce, according to Gray. Although the factories are a long way away from us, the pollution they produce affects us just as much as it does those in the surrounding areas, polluting the earth we all share.

If we, as a society, continue to purchase and discard clothing in unethical ways, our environment will be severely impacted. Our landfills will become filled, our air will be polluted and more of our money will be put in landfills and travel expenses for unwanted clothing.

By supporting and buying clothing from unethical companies, you are giving them the ability to continue in their ways.

So think before you buy any clothing. Purchase quality clothing that will last you a long time, and only buy what you need rather than out of impulse. Educate yourself on the companies you buy from before making your purchase — if you are financially able, buy from sustainable companies. Any clothing that you have that is still wearable but not used, give it a new purpose or donate the items to a non-profit organization.

Personally, I choose to buy some clothing from thrift stores, as that can greatly reduce the amount of waste I produce. To limit the amount of textile waste I dispose of, I fix my old clothes or give them a new purpose. Any clothing I own that is still in good condition but I have no need for, I give to my friends.

Every action you make to limit your waste improves the world for all of us.

Chayse McDonald is a Grade 10 student at Delview Secondary in North Delta.

SEE ALSO: Textile exhibit ‘Nature’s Clothesline’ set to open at Museum of Surrey

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