Photo by Shutterstock
If there’s one thing Americans shouldn’t do as the Europeans do, it’s textile recycling. Of the 5.8 million tons of fabric waste Europeans discard every year, only 25 percent is recycled, according to a report released Thursday by Friends of the Earth Europe. By disposing of valuable materials indiscriminately, Europe is failing to manage commodities in a time of economic crisis and rapid natural-resource depletion, the study notes. “Europe is still stuck in a system where valuable materials, many of which come at a high environmental and social cost, end up in landfill or incineration,” says Ariadna Rodrigo, resource use campaigner at the environmental nonprofit. “Recycling targets are a good start, but reusing products and materials and preventing waste in the first place won’t be the norm until we have EU targets for these, too.”
Photo by Shutterstock
In the case of cotton, says Friends of the Earth, recycling, reusing, and most important, reducing consumption, can radically diminish the volume of wasted fiber. Although the EU has established a voluntary “Ecolabel” and is hashing out green public-procurement policies for textiles, these measures remain inadequate when it comes to the overconsumption of cotton and its cradle-to-grave impacts, including water-depletion, the proliferation of genetically modified organisms, pesticide use, and workers’ rights abuses in garment supply chains, the group adds.
More often than not, used textiles can be pressed into multiple rounds of service.
And, more often than not, used textiles can be pressed into multiple rounds of service. On average, Friends of the Earth says, 40 to 50 percent of waste textiles can be recycled into garments. Roughly 20 to 25 percent can be recommissioned as cleaning cloths, while 20 to 30 percent can be used by other industries as a secondary raw material, say automotive soundproofing or home insulation. Even so-called “inferior fibers” can be mixed with other substitutes to produce paper, board, and fleece.
Other EU nations should also borrow a page from the United Kingdom, where two-thirds of its citizens buy or receive secondhand clothes. Clothing reuse, the nonprofit says, is far better for the environment than recycling. Case in point? For every ton of cotton T-shirts reused, the equivalent of 12 tons of carbon dioxide is saved.
“There is an urgent need to fundamentally change EU policies and end our current wastefulness,” Rodrigo says. “Reducing waste is an easy way to increase Europe’s resource efficiency. It not only contributes to cutting carbon emissions, it also creates jobs in Europe and reduces dependency on imported raw materials.”