Saturday, 20 January 2018

Where Our Recycled Clothes End Up

Last night, CBC's Investigative Consumer program Marketplace did a episode, "Clothing Waste:  Fashion's Dirty Secret", on retailer's recycled clothing programs. They travelled to New York and interviewed Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed:  The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. Although they did touch on the quality of the fabrics used in ready-to-wear I think they missed the mark on a very important underlining story. It is not missed in Cline's book though. They did focus on Clines definition of the clothing deficit myth. Many of the clothing items that we think are going to clothe the poor are in fact getting resold and ending up across the ocean where many are destroyed in landfill fires. Charity shops and now clothing retails are over run by our cast-offs that they can not recycle because of the blended fibre content.

It is easier to recycle a 100% cotton t-shirt but most t-shirts today are made with fibre blends that are not easily recycled. It is cheaper for a manufacturer to produce a garment with petroleum based synthetic fibres and that is why we see the trend of having these fibres mixed with natural fibres and sold as a "cotton" shirt.

As described in the investigative piece, the clothing industry is built on a flawed business model dependent on over consumption and a society not willing to repair or mend their clothing. Instead, we're encouraged to discard them for a retailer discount or because they were purchased initially so cheaply that we do not see the value in taking care of them.

So how did this story become an investigative journalism piece in light that Cline's observations have been out there since 2012? East African nations are imposing tariffs and in some cases a ban on second hand clothing imported from North America.

Contemporary clothing and house hold products are having another negative effect on our lives as seen when this story came out this week. Vince MacKenzie, a director with the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs points out that "fires today grow more quickly because many furnishing and consumer products are made of plastic and other petroleum products." Yeah, that includes all those clothes stuffed into closets made out of synthetic fibres or coated with fomaldehyde finishes.

I agree that we need to take care of our clothing and mend over discarding but we also need to consider the impact that the petroleum industry is having in our textile choices and the impact it has on our lives.

Does fibre content impact your fabric or clothing purchases?


  1. Yes! Fiber content does impact my clothing and fabric purchases. I can barely tolerate wearing fabric with even a small percentage of polyester. I do not get cold easily and find polyester fabrics make me sweat.

  2. Like you, I prefer natural fibers. The only synthetics I own are some (really old) rowing shorts and some polar fleece sweaters I wear in the yard, and my bras. They polar fleece is almost done and when it is I will take it to Mountain Equipment Coop and put it in their recycling barrel.

  3. I like the look and feel of natural fibers; poly gives me a cold sweat and I avoid them.


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