It is estimated that more than 1 million tonnes of textiles are thrown away every year, with most of this coming from household sources. Textiles make up about 3% by weight of a household bin. At least 50% of the textiles we throw away are recyclable, however, the proportion of textile wastes reused or recycled annually in the UK is only around 25%.
Source:Analysis of household waste composition and factors driving waste increases – Dr. J. Parfitt, WRAP, December 2002
Although the majority of textile waste originates from household sources, waste textiles also arise during yarn and fabric manufacture, garment-making processes and from the retail industry. These are termed post-industrial waste, as opposed to the post-consumer waste which goes to jumble sales and charity shops. Together they provide a vast potential for recovery and recycling.
Recovery and recycling provide both environmental and economic benefits. Textile recovery:
- Reduces the need for landfill space. Textiles present particular problems in landfill as synthetic (man-made fibres) products will not decompose, while woollen garments do decompose and produce methane, which contributes to global warming.
- Reduces pressure on virgin resources.
- Aids the balance of payments as we import fewer materials for our needs.
- Results in less pollution and energy savings, as fibres do not have to be transported from abroad.
If everyone in the UK bought one reclaimed woollen garment each year, it would save an average of 371 million gallons of water (the average UK reservoir holds about 300 million gallons) and 480 tonnes of chemical dyestuffs. (Evergreen)
Reclaiming fibre avoids many of the polluting and energy intensive processes needed to make textiles from virgin materials, including: –
- Savings on energy consumption when processing, as items do not need to be re-dyed or scoured.
- Less effluent, as unlike raw wool, it does not have to be thoroughly washed using large volumes of water.
- Reduction of demand for dyes and fixing agents and the problems caused by their use and manufacture.