When the time comes for a wardrobe detox, it’s easy to fill a bag or two of unwanted clothing ready to drop off at the local op shop. You probably feel good about yourself knowing your unwanted or outdated items of clothing are going to have a new life, with someone maybe less fortunate or in need. But what happens to all the clothing that’s left behind? The answer does not leave you feeling so good.
Landfill - and a lot of it. On the West Coast of Africa, Ghana, a staggering 20 metre wall of landfill borders the coastline, with around 60% of that being unwanted clothing. This is the less glamorous side of the story, the disconnect from our good service deed. But the harsh reality is that each week over 15 million garments arrive to this coastline alone - the clothing in good condition are kept for resale, while the estimated 40% is dumped into the growing mountain of landfill.
Our consumption of clothing, in particular ‘fast fashion’ is the root of this environmental crisis. Global production of clothing has doubled since 2000, and according to the World Economic Forum, 85% of all textiles goes into landfill each and every year. Not only this, but we are buying 60% more than we did 15 years ago! And here in Australia, we are the highest consumer of clothing anywhere in the world with the exception of America. We donate 310,000 tonnes of clothing to local opportunity stores, while the majority of this is sold to raise valuable funds, one-third cannot be sold. Thus, begins its journey to offshore countries where much of the contents ends up in landfill. Though not all of it will stay there. Storms will displace the clothing into drain systems and induce flooding, increasing mosquito prevalence and thus disease. Our addiction to having the latest, on trend clothing is disastrous for the environment, and is harming many lives along the way.
It’s hard to fully comprehend the story from start to end. What might seem like a glamorous and exciting experience to purchase a new outfit for a date, or an impulse buy for a day out with your friends, is really only a snapshot in the destructive life of that clothing.
Synthetic clothing takes hundreds of years to break down, compared to natural fibres which can biodegrade in months. We as the consumers have the power here to make a huge impact by choosing these quality textiles and shopping with brands who prioritise sustainability.