Clothes are cheaper and more disposable to shoppers than ever, and the environment is suffering for it. Between 2000 and 2014, global clothing production doubled. Producing this much clothing uses up huge amounts of natural resources and pumps toxic chemicals into the soil and rivers. The clothes themselves, increasingly made of polyester, are putting dangerous amounts of microfibers in the oceans, and too often wind up in landfills after little wear.
Greenpeace does acknowledge that “closing the loop” completely and perpetually recycling textiles—is important, and research has made some promising strides. The H&M Foundation and the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel recently announced what they described as a breakthrough in separating polyester and cotton in blended fabrics, which has been a major stumbling block in textile recycling. The new method allows them to capture the polyester fibers with no loss of quality. The cotton, however, comes out as a powder, and according to Erik Bang, innovation lead at H&M Foundation, that powder breaks down and doesn’t retain the quality of virgin cotton. As of now, it can’t be easily turned back into clothes.
Greenpeace says that the immediate focus has to be on changing the way to produce and consume clothes in the first place. It says that it has to stop the trend for decreasing lifespans and quality by designing for long life including better quality, classic styling, repairability, durability, guarantees and emotional longevity, put an end to the accumulation of clothes in people’s wardrobes by developing services, with a priority on repair, but also take-back systems, sharing and leasing, re-selling and customization. It must also stop reinforcing the disposable/fast fashion mindset with their marketing and advertising; instead brands should promote the true value of their products and encourage a change in their customers’ attitudes.