The fast fashion cycle means more styles available and leads to more garments being purchased and more frequently (which inevitably creates more waste).We purchase clothes that with the intent of disposal— disposable fashion. Once we are bored of our garments or once the next trend comes along, we simply toss the old pieces aside. Sometimes we may even trash clothes that may have a barely visible stain or a missing button. Coupled with the falling quality of clothing and the excessive supply that the garment industry produces yearly, it is no surprise that approximately 12.8 million tons of clothing are discarded each year.

Image Credit: Molly Zisk

A common practice is to donate these to charity with the assumption the pieces will end up with a new owner who truly needs it. In reality, there is a great excess of secondhand clothing which, in some cases, end up in rag houses to be sorted and sold to developing countries or used as industrial rags. Many fast fashion labels (e.g. H&M, Forever 21) usually end up in the ‘cheap’ pile and not categorized for resale. A large proportion of clothes from the U.S. and U.K. are exported in bulk to developing countries and sold in the markets. In reclamation mills, fabric waste is shredded and blended with other fibres and are used in weaving or processed into industrial rags. Certain textiles are flocked to make other items like automobile insulation, furniture padding, and roofing felt.

However, in most cases (85% of the time) our discarded clothes ends up in landfills and incinerators. Approximately half of the fibre used in garments are synthetic fibres, most of which are non-biodegradable. A polyester garment takes more than 200 years to decompose. Materials like wool release methane upon decomposition. Shoes can take up to a thousand years to breakdown as midsoles are commonly made with ethylene vinyl. Toxins from the clothes can also seep into the groundwater surrounding landfills.