As a result of perceived obsolescence, most of our “unfashionable” clothes end up in incinerators and landfills, even before their functional lifespan is up. In the United Kingdom, one of the biggest fast fashion consumers in the world, only about 15% of unwanted clothes are donated or recycled. The rest of the unwanted clothes end up in landfills. 80% of landfills are incinerated, consuming even more energy to burn our unwanted trash. In total, over 11 million tonnes of clothing are thrown away annually. The decomposition of organic materials during incineration and in landfills also releases methane, a gas that is much more powerful than carbon dioxide in inducing climate change.
Well-meaning individuals could also choose to donate their clothes to charities in hopes of reusing these clothes. However, most charities are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of clothing donated and are not able to process them. In Singapore, The Salvation Army, one of the biggest donation centres, is unable to process the amount of donations and is only able to put up about 8-10% of clothes for sale. Most fast fashion apparel are also poor quality, and even the most well-intentioned donation doesn’t save the fact that they can no longer be worn.
There are brands who appear to mean well by implementing certain environmentally-friendly initiatives to increase recycling. For example, H&M’s take-back initiative asks shoppers to donate old clothes in exchange for future discounts on purchases. Since 2013, over 30,000 metric tons of used clothes has been collected and sent to second-hand shops or repurposoed into insulation material. This market is extremely limited, unfortunately. The dream is to effectively recycle the fibre to be remade into new apparel. As of now, there is no cost-effective way to do so yet.