Earth Day Special: Where Do Clothes Go To Die?

April 21st, 2017

On more than one occasion, I find myself staring into my wardrobe and marvelling at one of life’s biggest mysteries: “Despite the mountainous amount of fabric I own, why do I have NOTHING to wear?” The first-world solution to this classic first-world problem is simple: buy more clothes. According to a CNA report, Singaporeans buy an average 34 pieces of new clothing every year, and then trash about 27 pieces of clothing. The National Environment Agency says we tossed 139,800 tonnes of textile and leather waste in 2016, of which only 7% was recycled. The rest? Incinerated! Australia doesn’t fare much better: Aussies buy an average 27 kg of new clothes each year, over double the global average. Obviously, we don’t want to just trash clothes, so we donate them to charity instead. People in Singapore love doing that, especially leading up to Christmas or Chinese New Year. It makes us feel good about ourselves, and we solve our overflowing wardrobe problem. But we shouldn’t start patting ourselves on the back just yet. The Salvation Army in Singapore receives about 6 tonnes of donated clothing every day. There’s so much that only 8-10% of them get displayed on the shelves. Of the remaining 90% or so, a fraction of it gets exported to countries like Malaysia or Indonesia. In Australia, only 15% of donated clothing actually gets sold. And the rest of the donated clothes? They’re sent off to the landfills, even if they’re still in good condition. The story only gets worse from here. Most new clothes are now made from synthetic fibers like polyester, acrylic yarn and nylon. In other words, they’re pretty much made of plastic, and plastic takes forever to biodegrade. Even natural materials like cotton don’t really biodegrade, because they end up in landfills and […]

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