Dressing up sustainability
One thing we all have in common, is the need to buy clothes. The only thing that changes is where you sit on the clothes-buying spectrum. Are you a slave to the whims of fast fashion, or a fan of perusing your local op-shop? Is clothes buying a joyful hobby, or an extremely reluctant chore?
No matter where you sit, there are clearly choices that are better for the environment than others. Unfortunately, far too many people are merrily purchasing fast fashion with little thought to the impact they’re having – and that impact can be huge. On average, every item of clothing purchased around the world is worn just seven times before getting chucked out. Research shows people don’t even wear half the clothes in their wardrobe. All of this adds up to the fashion industry making up 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than international air travel and shipping combined.
In New Zealand we send an average of 44kg of textiles to landfill per year, per person. While half of that is carpet, that’s still a whopping amount of clothing and fashion industry off-cuts ending up in the dump.
Thankfully, there are some Kiwis taking a look at how we can reduce clothing’s carbon footprint. Bernadette Casey is a sustainability consultant and co-founder of Usedfully - a low carbon clothing system that re-uses textiles. She works in what she calls the ‘unfashionable side of fashion’ – what happens to clothes once we’ve finished wearing them. She says in New Zealand, policymakers have been focused on waste, which doesn’t tell the whole story. “Textiles only make up about five to six percent of local landfill. But their carbon impacts are about 30%. Their weight to impact ratio is really outsized. New Zealand policy has been really grounded in volume rather than impact. Clothing generates about 3 times its weight in CO2 when it’s in landfill”.
She says it might all sound grim, but all the clothing waste we’re producing actually presents us with an opportunity. “If we think about (used textiles) as resources, they can go into a number of different applications, and have a number of different lives.” She gives the example of breaking old cotton garments into cellulose, which can then be used to make roading. “They’re not sexy projects, but they’re really practical and worthwhile. They generate jobs, economic opportunities and decarbonise at the same time”.
For more great Kiwi projects working to improve sustainability of clothing and textiles, listen to the latest episode of “Footprint”, the sustainability podcast from Newstalk ZB and Goodman Property.