Where is plan B?
05/14/2013 - 09:24

I want something new to wear. A trip to the shops then. No matter that my wardrobe is full already.

I’ll make some space by removing the stuff I hardly wear. I can take it to a flea market or collection point. But nobody’s interested in my old clothes - not students, not beggars, no-one.

The reality is that all the undamaged articles of clothing thrown out in Finland each year would be enough to clothe about 4 million people.

India had no garment industry 150 years ago. Instead, textiles were woven at home for family needs. Today, India produces 20 million bales of cotton annually, each bale weighing 170 kilos. Making each kilo of raw cotton requires about one kilo of chemicals and toxic substances, plus 300 litres of water.  And that doesn’t include the water used for cotton growing.  A quick calculation will reveal the theoretical scale of cotton’s environmental impact. On a practical level, this is a very real environmental disaster.

What’s more, cotton’s journey to the final garment is just beginning. It is spun into thread, dyed, woven into cloth, printed, stitched into a garment or a textile item, and ultimately thrown away without a second thought.

Textile waste generated in the furniture and goods industries is all included in the same waste statistics. Textiles used in various goods are often something other than cotton, due to the need for high wear resistance and fire safety. Wool, leather and synthetic fibres have environmental problems of their own.

The manufacture of synthetic fibres requires a considerable amount of energy, which is often derived from fossil fuels. Such textiles do not decompose, which means that disposal at the end of their life cycle is the biggest problem for synthetic fibre products. Combustion in the right type of disposal facility is the only option.

Wool, on the other hand, is commonly regarded as an ecological fibre.  At least in principle, the leather and wool created as by-products of meat production are the most nature-friendly of materials under the life-cycle approach. Other ethical problems surround wool production, as the quality of life of the ruminants is not always as good as it could be, and then they end up being slaughtered.

Two thirds of textile waste is generated by households. It is estimated that the amount of textile waste in Finland is growing at an annual rate of two per cent. The more the economy grows, the more the amount of waste generated, of course.  It would naturally be nice to think that greater awareness of the environment would lead to a new kind of thinking.

The textile and furniture industries could themselves try to encourage a shift in consumer behaviour away from today’s throw-away culture.  Green values can be made to work on market terms. Partly through recycling of materials, and partly through focusing on higher quality and durability.

With waste management being a growth industry, it should attract entrepreneurs and innovators. The need for ever more detailed sorting of municipal waste and targeted uses for it, for instance in energy production, are major unresolved issues in today’s society.

Finland, though, has excellent prospects for becoming a leader in efficient and effective environmental management. We could demand that when products reach the end of their life cycles they will not harm the environment but will instead be beneficial. We could stop recklessly consuming things and return to demanding products that last. Does anyone know where Plan B is - the plan for saving the planet?

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Workday designer
Workday Designers
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Martela Oyj
Director, Education
Vice President, Innovation to Market

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