Weaving Sustainability Into What We Wear

Regenerative Design

Textile production is a global, resource-intensive process that takes immense amounts of water, fossil fuels, and chemicals to produce just one piece of clothing. There’s an 85% chance that single item of clothing will end up in a landfill.


On May 4, Southface’s Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable (SART) explores the environmental and social impact of what we wear, and features companies who are taking a sustainable approach to apparel design and manufacturing. Be sure to join us for an interactive and insightful conversation with Charity Recycling Service (CRS), Patagonia, Alternative Apparel, and re:Loom.

SART moderator Andrea Burroughs is Program Director for the Georgia chapter of CRS, a for-profit company created to support sustainable and environmental partnerships with nonprofit, educational, and corporate organizations at no cost. CRS operates in 15 states and collects, buys, and helps transport clothing and textiles on behalf of its partner organizations. CRS collects more than 20 million pounds of clothing, textiles, and other recyclable and repurposable items through collection drives and bins.

Notable CRS partners in Georgia include the Georgia World Congress Center, Dave Thomas Foundation, and Gwinnett County Public School District, which raised $20,000 by collecting 200,000 pounds of recyclable material through CRS.

As a result of their efforts, CRS creates jobs worldwide, provides affordable clothing, and protects the environment. Burroughs shared her research on the textile industry’s waste and environmental impact impact, and recommendations for breaking the “take, make, waste” cycle.

What are some stats that the average consumer might not know about textile waste?

AB: There’s a lack of awareness of the impact that clothing and textile waste has on the environment. We’ve learned to recycle paper, plastic, and metal, but 85 percent of clothing goes into local landfills. Clothing is a valuable asset when its recycled or repurposed, and conversely, it is very costly when it goes into landfills. An average American throws away approximately 80 pounds of used clothing per person, and synthetic clothing may take hundreds of years to decompose. This is a loss of valuable assets.

How can the “take, make, waste” cycle end with textile and apparel manufacturers?

AB: If nothing changes in the way clothing is produced, by 2050 clothing manufacturing will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation presented a project for a circular economy in textiles, entitled the “Circular Fibers Initiative.” This approach includes three components: eliminating waste and pollution in the initial design phase; keeping products and materials in use; and regenerating natural systems. With support from manufacturers, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has a zero clothing waste goal by 2037.

What role can consumers play in textile and apparel sustainability?

Consumers are spending an estimated 60 percent more money on clothing than they did 15 years ago, but are using that clothing for half the time. There’s a big opportunity for people to learn about textile recycling, which currently makes up 15 percent of recycled materials. Serving as a fundraising tool for nonprofits, CRS facilitates clothing collection and provides collection bins for unwanted clothing. Cumulatively, we have collected and diverted from landfills more than 20 million pounds of clothing domestically and internationally.

While manufacturers have a large impact on our planet’s finite resources, companies like Patagonia and Alternative Apparel are meeting consumer demand for more sustainable clothing choices through programs like Worn Wear or by ensuring that their clothing materials are organic or recycled.

We express ourselves through the clothes we wear. By making more conscious decisions about what we wear, we show how important transparency and sustainability is in our everyday lives. 

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