Let’s start with some gruesome facts about the global clothing industry. It might be upsetting to read, but remember: there is hope.
In a year the clothing industry:
- produces 24 million tons of new cotton and uses 9 trillion liters of water
- produces 400 million kilometers of denim
- 3,5 million tons of cotton are thrown away annually
Clothing industry as it is now produces more emissions than air traffic and cargo ships combined (source). Right now in Europe one piece of clothing is used on average 100 times and in China 62 times - this means that the fabric is thrown away after about one year in Europe and even sooner than that in China. 95% of clothes we buy could be recycled, but only 15% are.
There is hope, I hope.
Customers are getting more and more aware about the issue and recycling is growing to be a big trend, maybe even an industry. Here in Finland at least there is a second hand store in every part of town and Facebook or other online second hand stores are blooming. Big clothing brands are waking up to this as well - which is even better. Brands like H&M, Adidas and Hugo Boss have signed the “clothing industry charter for climate action” (pdf). It means that the companies have promised to reduce their emissions by 30% by 2030 and be completely carbon neutral by 2050. Many stores also collect used clothes or fabrics and recycle them into new clothes, which is a really good thing. When an old piece of fabric is made into a completely new piece it saves huge amount of water (because there is no need to grow the cotton for it) and there is no need to dye the clothes, because they are sorted by colour. For example here you can see how the company Pure Waste makes new clothes from pre-consumer waste and used clothing. Pre-consumer waste means fabric waste that is created before the clothing reaches the consumer; for example cutting waste. Also global actors - like EU - are acting: by 2025 EU regulation bans throwing post-consumer textiles into waste (pdf).
We as customers can’t do as much as the companies could, but we can also do our share. We can use the clothes we buy longer - which means that we don’t need to buy new ones so often. It saves the planet as well as our tiny student budgets. Buy clothes that last. One-time-used clothes are a no-no in the sustainability point of view. Only by using the clothes twice as long as we do now (so two years) the emissions would reduce by 44%. When you wash your clothes, choose the 30 degrees (eco) program. The program is slow because it warms the water up slower. Only bed sheets etc. which gather bacteria and sweat should be washed at 60 degrees to kill everything there is to kill. Air dry items that you can and when it is reasonable. Socks, shirts and pants are usually easy to air dry (plus it doesn’t wear out the fabric), but usually it is smarter to dry bed sheets and towels in a tumble dryer to save time and space. Pure Waste has great tips on sustainable garment care: https://www.purewaste.org/company/responsible-ecological-laundry.html.
We also can recycle the clothes (and other stuff) we don’t need anymore. In Finland/Helsinki we have for example these options for recycling clothes and other fabrics:
-Rekki (only in finnish) and Zadaa are online second hand stores. Rekki buys your used clothes and sells them at their online store and Zadaa is a platform for users to sell and buy clothes in Finland, Germany and Denmark.
-Most second hand stores (UFF, Fida, Recci...) take your clothes and sell them at the store.
-Some stores (Cubus, H&M) also take your used clothes and recycle them into new clothes.
-Finlayson has containers at their stores where you can recycle your duvet covers and jeans and they make towels and carpets out of them.
-Facebook is full of recycling groups. Here in Helsinki those are divided by neighbourhoods: for example Punavuori kierrättää or Kallio kierrättää. They usually operate mostly in Finnish, but you are welcome to post there also in English.
-In the Helsinki area UFF has some clothes collection spots, where you can leave your used clothes in a bag. They will be delivered to developing countries (mainly India and countries in Africa).
If you sell your clothes forward, make sure they are in good shape and clean. You wouldn’t want to use broken or dirty clothes so why would others?
In ESN Uni Helsinki environmental sustainability is our main focus this semester. We have divided the spring term into a different themes and under those themes we will try to evoke some thoughts and discussion about it. The theme for February is clothing industry and that is why the event we had was, what else, a second hand tour! We visited five super cozy second hand stores in Punavuori: UFF Bulevardi, Fida Roba, Relove Freda, Punavuoren Patina and Kaivarin Kanuuna. Second hand stores are a nice way to find something unique from clothes to decorations with a really student-friendly price.