Clothing and textile waste recycling
In 1995, I did a school project about recycling textiles and clothing. While, some of the information and stats may be slightly outdated, it’s interesting how a lot of the themes remain relevant today.
- The average person spends 6% of their income on clothes
- Most clothes are out worn a few times resulting in about £30bn worth of clothing sitting in British drawers and wardrobes
- The average household dustbin contains 10% unwanted household textiles, clothes and shoes.
- In 1993 the textile industry was ranked as the 7th worst industrial polluter of the US waters.
So how can we minimise our clothing waste? In the fashion industry, fabrics and textiles are not the easiest items to recycle, and there remains a lot of confusion around the difference between upcycling and recycling.
Recycling and upcycling
Both involve making something new from something that is no longer used or has reached the end of its life. Recycling requires an item to be altered and broken down to then create into something new. Textiles are sorted into natural or synthetic fibres, shredded and then made into new fibres.
Upcycling is one way to use existing resources and extend the life of something. As a child, my grandmother was constantly upcycling - old clothes would be shortened, patched up, or cut to make into new garments. Just like Maria Von Trapp in the Sound of Music couldn’t bear the thought of old drapes being thrown out and so made them into play clothes!
Upcycling is however, a labour intensive process as vintage fabrics can have quality issues. In looking for saris to use for Pri Pri products, I need to be sure that every piece is suitable for sewing and reuse, and try and make sure any marks or defects are avoided. So while it is much harder to do on as big a scale as recycling or mass production, it’s extremely satisfying to find creative ways to reuse existing items into something unique with a history! And for every tonne of textiles that is upcycled, we save 20 tonnes of CO2 from being emitted!
Patchwork is a clear example of a beautiful way of upcycling old fabrics. Traditional patchwork with squares is said to have originated from early settlers travelling to America from Europe. Over the years when clothes and other household linen began to wear out, the settlers wanted to keep some reminders of their home land so they set about reusing the better pieces of fabric, from the worn out items, to create new cloth, and patchwork quilts were born!
Rag rugs are another way to use up scraps. In the 19th century, rag rugs were widely made among poor peasants. Women would save up useless materials and turn them into something useful. Hessian sacks from transporting rice or grain would be used as the base of the rug. They would be used then as floor rugs or even as quilts.
If you have some spare fabric or an old t-shirt, how about trying to make a little drawstring pouch? Ideal for the tooth fairy, some pocket money toys or your spare change!