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It is estimated that more than 1 million tonnes of textiles are thrown away every year in the UK alone. At least 50% of the textiles we throw away are recyclable, however, the proportion of textile wastes reused or recycled annually in the UK is only around 25%.

Recovery and recycling provide important environmental benefits. Textile recovery:

  • Reduces the need for landfill space. Textiles present particular problems in landfill as synthetic (man-made fibres) products will not decompose, while woollen garments do decompose and produce methane, which contributes to global warming.
  • Reduces pressure on virgin resources.
  • Results in less pollution and energy savings, as fibres do not have to be manufactured or transported from abroad.

If everyone in the UK bought one reclaimed woollen garment each year, it would save an average of 371 million gallons of water (the average UK reservoir holds about 300 million gallons) and 480 tonnes of chemical dyestuffs. (Evergreen)

Many fashion businesses are choosing to incorporate recycled fibres, fabrics or clothes in their collections.

Consumers can also contribute by recycling , re-fashioning and re-styling existing clothes, swapping clothes with friends or choosing to invest in quality rather than quantity when buying clothes.

There are three ways of recycling fashion:

  1. Using fabric composed of recycled fibres or products- for example recycled polyster made from used drinking bottles or fabrics made from recycled yarns
  2. Recycling textile fabric- (“Upcycling”) for example using unwanted factory surpluses, offcuts or materials which would otherwise be thrown away
  3. Recycling or customising clothing- taking second hand clothing and re-fashioning or repairing it so it is given a second life.

Recycling in the fashion industry

Fabrics made from recycled items are now becoming more commonplace with recycled polyester made from recycled drinks bottles now being made by companies such as Patagonia , Marks and Spencer, and Armani jeans.

Armani jeans have been incorporating eco fabrics and design since the mid 90’s. Their first eco project started in 1995 with the development of a process to recycle denim. This was revolutionary for the time and the jeans were displayed at the Science and Technology Museum of Milan. Later that year, Armani Jeans developed new materials using 60% recycled wool and recycled cross dyed cotton and introduced hemp eco washes into the collection. This experimentation has continued with the production of an organic knitwear range, the use of pure alpaca and the engagement with fair-trade cotton projects in Peru and Bolivia and recycled polyester.

Some fashion businesses use fabric waste generated during the manufacturing process or material that has been designated as unusable due to minor faults.

Companies like From Somewhere specialise in creating collections from this kind of fabric , and refer to this process as ‘upcycling’ rather than recycling.

More reasons to recycle

  1. Landfill sites pose a threat to local ground water supplies. Every time it rains, water drains through all the rubbish, and picks up chemicals and hazardous materials from whatever is in the landfill site. This includes chemicals used in clothing and textiles such as dyes and bleaches. The water collects at the bottom of the landfill, often in large amounts and can be up to 200 times as toxic as raw sewage.
  2. By re-using existing fibres and textiles, there is no need to make these textiles from raw materials (such as cotton, wool, and synthetic fibres) This saves on the energy used and pollution caused during manufacturing processes like dying, washing, and scouring.

More information

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