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  • Randy Rankin

Would you give “The Shirt off Your Back” to mitigate Climate Change?

Can you believe the cloths we wear significantly impact the environment? 100 billion items of clothing are produced globally each year, and it’s been estimated the US throws away 11 million tons of textile waste annually. The United Nations Environment Program collects remarkable statistics for the clothing / fashion industry: 10% of global carbon emissions are attributed the fabric industry life cycle, 24,500 billion gallons of water as well as 20% of worldwide wastewater in the making of textiles, and meanwhile nearly 90% of clothing products are discarded or burned.


Organic fibers join those landfill wastes that emit CO2 and methane that I’ve posted previously, but synthetic fibers which make up 67% of all fabrics basically never go away. “Almost every piece of plastic ever produced still exists.”


Just like all the various fabrics available, plastic recycling is not a one stream solution. While we sort our plastics into the seven recycle classifications there are thousands of types of plastic. Plastic recycling is typically accomplished by two methods, Thermolysis or heat processing and Chemolysis, chemical depolymerization. Thermolysis includes pyrolysis and gasification and in the crudest from incineration. Incineration is typically avoided in the US due to the carcinogenic products and environmental contamination but can be an avenue to collect energy when other processes don’t work. Chemolysis is basically a reverse reaction of making plastic but not all plastics can be broken down with this process.


Global policy changes have begun to address the plastic waste issue and China’s 2018 National Sword policy put a ban on the import of plastic waste and then the 2019 Basel Convention places restrictions and prohibitions on plastic waste shipments for the 53 participating countries. Not surprising one country did not ratify the Basel Amendments, the USA. Both policies have impacted the ability of the US to ship domestic plastic waste to other countries which was our previous solution, but they have fostered the growth of waste plastic recycling processes.


Plastic recycling alone doesn’t solve the fabric challenges. We love the warmth and softness of fleece and fuzzy fabric Recent discoveries have found microfabrics and microplastics everywhere: waste water, the oceans, and even inside the human body. These plastics never biodegrade and appear to be with us for the duration.


So, what can we do? Recycling is going to take some time to make any real impact in plastic reduction. With that said some clothing lines are providing recycled fabrics. The consumer power of purchasing these items drives the demand for more recycled cloths. Natural fibers have always been an option and new textile process are making natural fibers more versatile. New campaigns to reuse clothing by organizations like: Recycle for Change, Planet Aid, USAGAIN, and Green America accept donations. An effort to change fashion industry practices is underway by the Geneva Environment Network to address the full gamut of the Sustainability Development Goals. For more information You can see their white paper at https://unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/RCM_Website/RFSD_2018_Side_event_sustainable_fashion.pdf.


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