Over the past 30 years, fast fashion has increased the amount of waste coming from the fashion industry. Fast Fashion is the term used to describe the quick transition from catwalk to customer, with reduced cost and reduced quality products. These items are not designed to last longer than a few months and the best way to reduce the manufacturing cost is to make them with synthetic fabrics.
Of all the textiles manufactured each year:
- 12% are lost during manufacturing in the form of cutting and production waste,
- 75% are sent to landfill by consumers
- 12% are put back in the system through donating or recycling
- <1% are regenerated into new fibre for new clothes
Textile Waste in New Zealand
New Zealand has a textile waste problem like any other country. We are seeing increasing big brands like H&M opening stores around the country and the business model they use reinforces the disposable nature of fast fashion.
Aotearoa research practitioners connecting with industry
- Holly McQuillan’s zero waste research and practice has led to developing open-source, user-modifiable, zero waste designs – targeting clothing waste at the cutting stage.
- Jennifer Whitty’s social enterprise: Space Between,promotes an upcycled clothing line (Earthlink Apparel) that manufactures using pre and post-consumer waste– closing the loop on clothing waste.
- Donna Cleveland’s work develops and implements customised textile waste recycling and design processes as models for NZ based apparel companies.
For more information on New Zealand's textile waste, check out ReDress: The value of diverting textile from landfill in Aotearoa
The following national charitable organisations may accept clothing at their stores:
Please ensure clothing is clean. Disposing of inappropriate goods at charity stores is a huge cost to these organisations. If the textile or clothing is dirty or damaged, and especially if a synthetic fabric, dispose of it as waste to landfill.
Be wary of donating clothing to clothing bins as they are often sold by the tonne to retailers and very little goes to the charity advertised on the bin. It is much better to take donations directly to stores.
Recycling in NZ
Terra Lana, a New Zealand manufacturer, uses wool recycled from carpet manufacturing, some new wool and polyester, to make a range of insulation products, including ceiling, wall and underfloor insulation, plumbing and acoustic insulation, weed mats and furniture-moving blankets.
1) Buy natural fibres where possible, keeping in mind that most synthetic fabrics have nowhere other than landfill to go at the end of their life. We are spoiled for choice of natural fabrics in New Zealand such as merino and possum wool. Purchase New Zealand made if you can as these products will likely have lower manufacturing and transport emissions.
2) Repair clothing before it gets too worn out. If you notice a hole in your merino top, darn it before it gets bigger. There are loads of tips and tricks to repair different items.
3) Buy second hand clothing. By purchasing second hand you can extend the life of a product and avoid it heading to landfill if there is still life left in it.
4) Join the Fashion Revolution! The Fashion Revolution is a movement that aims to create a fashion industry that values people, the environment, creativity and profit in equal measure. By purchasing from manufacturers that have ethical and sustainable practices, you can support the 'Slow Fashion' movement and help change the disposable attitude towards clothing that has been created by big brands.
The environmental effects of textile fibre production are highly significant globally:
- Water use: It can take 2,700 litres of water to produce enough cotton for one T-shirt.
- Chemical dependence: Conventional cotton farming is one of the most polluting in the world: it uses 11% of the world’s pesticides, 24% of the world's insecticides, but under 3% of the world's farmland.
- Cotton is the most pesticide-intensive crop in the world. Some of these chemicals typically remain in the fabric after finishing, and are released during the lifetime of the garments.
- The pesticides that farmers use to protect textile fibres as they grow can harm non-pest wildlife, contaminate other products and endanger the farm workers and their families.
- Bleaching and then dyeing - the resulting fabric carries more toxins.
- Almost all polyester-cotton mixes (especially bed linen) and all easy care, crease resistant, permanent press cotton, are treated with toxic formaldehyde; also used for flameproofing nylon.
- Nylon manufacture creates and releases nitrous oxide, a 'greenhouse gas' 300 times more potent at warming per molecule than carbon dioxide.
- Microfibres from synthetic fabric garments detach during washing and exit with the rinsing water. Many end up in the oceans where they are collected by filter-feeding animals, although they have no food value. This pollution is now detectable globally.