Actually, we all know the solution, but we often prefer to remain the problem: We buy far too many new clothes instead of wearing them longer. If all clothes in Switzerland were worn for three more years, 1.5 million tons of CO could be saved every year2 save on. That corresponds to the greenhouse gases emitted by a 7.4 billion kilometer car journey.
What happens to the old clothes that are disposed of in the clothes containers? “Old clothes are mainly exported to Eastern Europe, East and West Africa – officially for reuse. However, Greenpeace Germany’s visit to Kenya and Tanzania shows that these are largely empty promises,” Barbara Wegmann (38), specialist consumer and circular economy expert at Greenpeace Switzerland, quotes a study from Germany as saying. But Wegmann is convinced that clothes from Switzerland can also end up in Africa: “Yes, we assume that old clothes collected in Switzerland will also end up in Africa”.
A request from Blick at Texaid, one of the largest Swiss textile collectors, went unanswered. On their website they write: «The Texaid Group collects over 80,000 tons of old clothes every year and ensures that they are reused in an ecologically sensible way. 40 percent of the textiles collected are in too bad a condition to be worn as second-hand clothing – and the trend is rising as the trend towards cheap and cheaply produced clothing continues.”
In addition to the unbelievable and unmanageable amount of old clothes, the poor quality of the clothes is a major problem. Up to 69 percent of clothing fibers are synthetic, i.e. made of plastic. When our cheap clothes rot in Africa’s garbage dumps, these microplastic fibers get into the environment unfiltered. Or to put it another way: micro-parts of our fleece jackets and cheap clothes end up in the water and pollute the elixir of life for humans and animals. The Fashion Revolution Switzerland network estimates that 35 percent of the microplastics in the oceans come from textiles.
Throwing clothes in the trash can be better
So should one rather throw broken cheap synthetic clothes in the trash here in Switzerland? “Yes, as bad as it sounds,” advises Wegmann. Because here in Switzerland, the waste is at least burned correctly, so no microplastics end up in the environment. “But it would be much better not to buy such clothes in the first place,” she clarifies.
She simply advises: “Buy less. Buy high quality. Use it for as long as possible.” In order to use the clothes for as long as possible, instead of stuffing them in the clothes bag, you should give them away to friends, take them to clothing exchanges, and offer them on online platforms. “Of course, that involves more effort, but it often results in good social contacts,” says Wegmann. And if the clothes are broken, you can always make cleaning rags out of them. “Or why not ask a workshop if they want to use the broken things as rags?” she asks.
Research is also in favor of longer wear and use of the clothes: “Mechanical recycling without adding new material is always downcycling, even with clothes. The result is a less valuable raw material,” says Claudia Som (55), research associate at the materials research institute Empa. It is true that Empa is researching “resource-saving chemical recycling that should result in a new raw material,” says Som. Until then, it makes more sense to use clothes for as long as possible.
Som also advises that companies make better use of production waste and recycle it, rather than just consumer waste from the PET bottle cycle. Because the production waste is also of high quality and can be recycled more easily and often with less energy.
Six kilos of old clothes per person
Greenpeace would also like to make fashion companies responsible: “They have to live up to their sustainability promises and produce less clothing that is of better quality, more durable, repairable and reusable”. Fast fashion chains are releasing new collections at ever shorter intervals. We buy an average of 60 new items of clothing a year, says Fashion Revolution. According to the Federal Office for the Environment, six kilograms of clothing per capita end up in the used clothing collection in Switzerland every year.
According to Greenpeace, the pictures and the study of the clothes dumps in Tanzania and Kenya show: “We outsource our waste problem under false promises to countries that do not have the infrastructure to cope with them”.
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