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May 28, 2018 | by  | in Features |
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Make a Change with Your Clothes

The fashion industry is one of the largest and most polluting sectors in the world, second only to oil. It’s estimated that 80 billion garments are produced each year, which is 400% more than what we produced 20 years ago. This is due to the “fast fashion” industry. Fast fashion is a term referring to our current throw-away fashion culture, where trends move ultra-fast, while prices and quality are forced down to keep up with them. In NZ alone, roughly 105 million kilograms of textile waste are sent to our landfills each year. Bring into the equation the fact that up to 95% of textiles can actually be recycled and diverted from the waste stream, and it is clear that there is something very wrong with our current fashion system.

The environmental impact of textile waste doesn’t only lie in our landfills however. Manufacturing just one pair of jeans and a tshirt uses nearly 10,000 litres of water. Toxic chemicals and dyes from the manufacturing process are discharged into rivers, waterways, and soil, causing irreparable harm to plant, animal, and human life around the globe.

There is also a human price to fast fashion. The tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in 2013, which killed 1,135 people, is one of the most recent examples of the horrific conditions garment workers in developing countries are subjected to, all to quench our thirst for cheap, disposable clothing.
So what can we do about it?

While the largest vessel for change ultimately lies in the hands of the clothing label giants and retailers themselves, these are some things we consumers can do to support waste reduction and conscious consumption.

– Purchase quality garments made from natural or organic fabrics: Organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, merino, and wool are some great options. Certified organic fabric is free from toxic chemicals, dyes, and pesticides, making it safer for workers to produce it, and less detrimental to the local environment. Natural fibres are also biodegradable once the garment has reached the end of its life. However, the higher price tag attached to “sustainable fashion” is not always accessible, especially to students.
– Shop second-hand: A less expensive but similarly sustainable option is choosing second-hand clothing whenever possible. Second-hand clothing saves resources that would have gone into creating something new, like electricity, water, and dyes. It also prevents clothing from going to the landfill and contributing carbon emissions to the atmosphere as it breaks down.
– Support local designers and brands: This benefits the local economy by creating more jobs, reduces the number of garments that are imported using high-polluting transportation, and can help to reduce waste being sent to the landfill. This is because New Zealand’s manufacturing regulation is stricter than in many of the countries that garment production is outsourced to, and tends to produce garments that can last longer.

– Reduce, reuse, recycle: Reduce garment waste by following the steps above, and by choosing quality over quantity when you go shopping. Reuse garments by upcycling them – you can customise tired-looking clothing with patches, embroidery, or by finding other ideas online. You can also reuse clothes by organising swaps with friends. Finally, recycle where possible: donate clothes to second-hand stores, drop them at a textile recycling plants, or even use your old t-shirts as cleaning rags!

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