By the rate textile consumption and landfill dumping is going, if not already, then very soon textile will be the new plastic. Not only are fashionistas with closets bigger than bedrooms in need of a reality check, most millennials swap jeans faster than smartphones.
Recycling textile is as urgent as recycling other matter like plastic because most textiles are not organic, they do not decompose in a landfill. The amount of water and resources it takes to produce textiles is also enormous (water footprint of a pair of jeans is 7,980 litres.) Recycling textile saves resources by creating less demand for new textile production and reduces landfill pollution.
Bear in mind that any textile, such as carpets, curtains, and couches, can be recycled, not only clothes.
The clothing donation bin is probably the oldest known form of recycling textiles. There is a lot of controversy regarding these bins in different parts of the world. In various states of the US, there was a surge of "fake donation bins" claiming to "collect items for charity," but in truth selling the clothes for profit. Since the distribution of bins was not regulated, parking lots “rented” space for fake bins. Misleading donors is not right, so choose your bin wisely before you dump your textiles.
If recycling is your goal and you don’t care if profit is made, then any donation bin will do. Many bins are under social enterprises, giving a percentage of their profits to charity and investing in development projects. Humana is one of these well-known chains that make a profit, but it also creates jobs, provides a platform to reuse clothes, and contributes to projects that better the world.
But if the idea of an organisation making “riches” off your rags bothers you, then look for donation bins that collect clothing specifically for charity and are not for profit. It is important to note that due to excess clothing production and very cheap prices, used clothing that is not “trendy” is not as wanted as before. Perhaps do a clothing swap with your friends to find better and more loving owners of your old clothes.
It’s also interesting to know what happens to clothes and textiles that can’t be reworn, how they are recycled. Just pull the threads out of a dress and convert it into a blouse? Not that easy. A small fraction of textiles actually go through this type of transformation process. There are many technical barriers and fashion trends change too fast to keep the recycled clothing relevant. Most textiles are converted to industrial textiles and fibers, such as home insulation, carpet padding, and material for automotive production.
Part of being a more “caring” industry, retail stores accept textile donations and get sustainability marketing points. Some give a discount for your next purchase if you bring in used textiles. Yes, it is a contradiction to recycle textile and immediately buy new clothes, and H&M’s “own development sustainability manager admitted that only 0.1 percent of returned clothing was reused for new textiles.”
Still, H&M retailers find a way to put textile to use. They produce so much clothing in excess that “a power and heating station in the town of Vasteras, northwest of Stockholm, reportedly burns defective H&M garments donated by the company instead of coal in an effort to reduce fossil fuels.” In less developed countries like Kenya, old clothes are simply burned in open air, without using the energy.
These days clothing is made of much poorer quality than what it used to be and fashion trends are changing faster than ever before. The real way to combat this emergent rival of plastic is to boycott it. Buy high quality clothing that will last decades and forego being a hip dandy. Consumers have to show producers what they want and by the laws of demand and supply, the scales should be tipped.
So we don’t have a perfect model of recycling textile yet. Just do not throw that old sock in a normal bin, and be more creative with the clothes that you already have.
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In the United States, opioid addiction is an epidemic. We are all to familiar with stories of an over-prescription of pain killers leading to addiction but our fear of opioids is also causing millions to suffer in pain.
Michael Plant, a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford, addresses the under-prescription of opioids in middle- and low-income countries:
The World Health Organisation estimates that 40 million people are in need of palliative care every year and of those who need it, only 14 percent receive the care.
Access to essential pain relief is distorted. A Lancet 2017 study reported that the United States has access to 31 times as much pain relief needed by patients while Haiti receives less than one percent of what is needed. According to the study, 25 million people die in pain every year without access to pain relief.
More shocking is that the issue here isn’t money. It’s policy. Restrictive regulations fueled by a fear of unintended opioid use and lack of awareness are building barriers for people who desperately need pain relief to receive it. Countries have a tough balancing act of insuring necessary access to pain relief while avoiding an abuse crisis.
Uganda answers this balancing act by distributing bottles of morphine diluted in water to help prevent addiction. A person would have to drink gallons to get high. As reported in the New York Times, these bottles are given to those in need by a private charity, Treat the Pain and the government absorbs the cost so it is free for patients.
This isn’t a new solution, Treat the Pain partnered with Hospice Africa, started distributing oral morphine solutions in 2011. Uganda has ranked 35th out of 80 countries and second in Africa in the 2015 Quality of Death Index from the Economist Intelligence Unit. So why aren’t other countries following suit? Uganda is inspiring laws and policies for several countries but the low-cost solution is not popular largely because of lack of awareness and infrastructure and frustratingly because of the fear of the word 'opioid'.
One of the most desired leathers at the moment is python. Pythons have extremely durable skins adapted through evolution for survival. Why we humans need python skin is, well, a luxury thing, a status indicator, not a necessity. Nevertheless, the demand for python skin accessories like handbags and shoes is on the rise. Import prices have grown from 350,000 skins valued at €100 million in 2005 to $1 billion today.
Increasing demand for python leather has taken a toll on this species; about half a million pythons get skinned every year. In Southeast Asian countries, pythons suffer from being kept in captivity and experiencing very short lives.
Those working in the tanning industry, a process in which skins and hides of animals are treated to produce leather, are exposed to dangerous working conditions and chemicals. Leather tanners have higher rates of cancer, gastrointestinal diseases, and other life-threatening health issues due to long-term exposure to tanning chemicals.
In Southeast Asian countries where tanning takes place, the technology to recycle waste from tanning is very poor. As a result, nearby waterways are polluted with chemicals and acids, affecting communities at large.
Even though the python industry is booming, it is not very profitable for people working in the lower end of the supply chains. While a villager in Indonesia sells one python skin for $30, a fashion boutique will be selling the python-skin product for a much higher price. For example, Fendi’s Multicolored Python Patchwork Collarless Jacket was priced at $11,500.
Kering, the company behind major luxury brands like Gucci, Alexander McQueen, and Yves Saint Laurent, has built its own python farm as a result of the incredible demand for their skins.
The chief sustainability officer for Kering, Marie-Claire Daveu, said: “This is a long-term commitment to developing sustainable and responsible sourcing of Kering’s python skins.” While pythons in the Kering farm may have a better quality of life than those kept in captivity in Southeast Asia, in this day and age there is an even more “sustainable” and “responsible” way to source leather skins — growing them in a lab!
One initiative successfully growing leather from cells is called Modern Meadow. They use living cells to grow leather materials via a process entirely free of animal slaughter. Their technology grows collagen, a protein found in animal skin from which bioleather material can be created. The most intriguing part of the technology is that virtually any skin could be grown, even of exotic extinct animals. While this may seem futuristic, it’s already a reality.
Paul Shapiro in his book Clean Meat argues that popularity in lab-grown leather can make lab-grown meat more palatable, solving two incredibly environmentally-exhausting issues; demand for meat and leather, at once.
For some people the ick-factor of lab-grown meat is hard to overcome. Lab-grown leather, on the other hand, is not instinctively gross. Who actually loves leather because they feel they are wearing or carrying real animal skin? People like it for quality and the feel of it and if it can be made exactly the same minus animal cruelty, why not make the switch?
With a harvest of 116.48 million tons estimated for 2018 alone, the United States is the world’s second largest producer of soybeans. That’s a lot of tofu burgers and cordon bleus.
However, a staggering amount of this copious production doesn’t go to the soy product industry like one would expect. In fact, America’s biggest buyer of soybeans is the livestock industry, buying the beans for animal feed. That’s where the majority of soy ends up.
Worldwide, around 70 percent of the world’s soy is fed directly to livestock while just a paltry six percent of “shu” (the ancient Chinese name for soybeans) is turned into human food. The rest becomes mainly soybean oil.
This leads to a paradoxical situation since for soybean producers it is much more lucrative to sell their crop to the animal farming industry than to producers of soy-based food for human consumption. As The Humane Society’s Paul Shapiro writes in his 2018 book Clean Meat, “Ironically, the last thing soy producers want is for Americans to shift from meat to soy products like tofu and edamame, since the latter requires so much less soy.”
Shapiro also mentions a 2013 report commissioned by the United Soybean Board that noted: “actions to maintain and expand animal agriculture in the United States — by supporting its long-term competitiveness — are of critical importance to the soybean sector.”
As reported by the National Geographic, for every 100 calories of grain we feed animals, we get only about 40 new calories of milk, 22 calories of eggs, 12 of chicken, 10 of pork, or 3 of beef. The inefficiency of this system is evident and the data makes clear why soybean producers are big supporters of the meat industry and don’t want consumers to eat soy.
With an estimated collection of 117 million tons for its crop year, Brazil is the new global leader in soybean production and export. Significantly, deforestation related to soy production has been responsible for around 29 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2010.
It’s then clear that, if we want to stop deforestation in the area, we –— as consumers — need to change our diets. But that doesn’t mean that we need to give up our beloved (?) tofu sausages. Quite the opposite, we need to slow down our consumption of their animal counterparts.
If you want to know more about how we can reduce the global consumption of animals by 50 percent by the year 2040, check out (and maybe donate to) Proveg, a leading international organization that is active in the field of food awareness.