According to research, textile waste from the European Union alone accounts for around 5.8 million tonnes of discarded textiles by consumers annually. Of the 5.8 million tonnes only 1.5 million tonnes (25%) of these textiles are recycled by charities and industrial enterprises. The remaining 4.3 million tonnes of textiles goes to landfill or municipal waste incinerators, causing pollution. The incineration of textiles releases carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases which diminish air quality and contribute to the growing climate crisis. Incineration also releases toxins from the dyes and chemicals used in the clothing.
Landfill on the other hand causes the generation of greenhouse methane gas and leach toxic chemicals and dyes which go into our soil and groundwater. Textile waste in landfill can take up to 200 years to decompose completely. The textile waste factors, mentioned above, come from fashion consumption alone and we have still not factored in the waste from the textile industry itself.
The textile industry dispenses a massive source of secondary raw material, which can be repurposed. Textile waste combines a group of reusable materials used in building construction with different possibilities of application. Now as sustainable fashion activists and conscious consumers it is our responsibility to see textile recycling applications effectively implemented.
The Textile Waste Problem.
Textile waste is cause by common causes such as clothes, woven fabrics and threads. The composition, textures, and size are some of the contributing material properties of textile waste. Taking into account that textile waste results from the garment construction process, in which there is an optimization of the fabric piece preparation, it is inevitable that waste with different sizes and shapes will result from this process. This means that the different properties of the materials increase the difficulty of studying possible textile waste solutions. Considering that a mixture of these materials is also very likely to occur then this complexity is even more evident.
Much of the problem comes down to the blends of our clothing, made from blends of natural yarns, man-made filaments, plastics and metals which are problematic. The current fashion system, unfortunately, uses high volumes of non-renewable resources, including petroleum that is extracted to produce clothes that are often used only for a short period of time.
This system puts pressure on valuable resources such as water, degrades ecosystems, and further creates societal impacts on a global scale. Fortunately, however, thermal, mechanical and physical performance of various types of textile fabrics and their residues are essential to optimize the use of textile waste as a raw material in thermal insulation.
Thermal Insulation as a solution to textile waste.
Textile waste fibres can be used to produce different types of building materials, such as lightweight concrete, reinforcement of cement mortars or fibrous insulation materials. In this regard, studies to analyse the theory of heat transfer through textile fabrics have been developed. These studies show that textiles’ thermal insulation properties are highly related to the properties and configuration of their components, namely to the thin structure and surface characteristics of yarns and the air volume distribution in the fabrics.
To produce effective thermal insulation fibres from textile waste, producers use woven fabric waste (WFW). The waste material is self-explanatory and is highly conductive. Its thermal conductivity value is similar to the values found in expanded polystyrene, extruded polystyrene and mineral wool, all materials used in traditional insulation. Applying woven fabric waste as a possible thermal insulation material is adequate because it encourages sustainable, environmental and economic advantages.
It has been established that the primary function of clothing is to keep the human body from cold and heat, so why not use its waste to insulate the inside of our homes and offices? It is extremely important to acknowledge that not all waste materials can be used, but it is our responsibility to understand which waste materials can be useful.
Incineration and landfill dumping are unsustainable practices and cause harm to the environment. The practises are sources of inferior air contribution, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution. These are just some of the ways the fashion industry contributes to climate change and in order to encourage sustainable development goal 3, things have to be different. Fast fashion production should diminish and less consumption should be encouraged so that incineration and landfill dumping will become a memory in the near future.
The textile waste problem exists because of the fashion industry’s use of blended textiles. This notion forces consumers to be aware of the products they consume and how their life cycle will be impacted. We can use textile waste now to encourage new forms of thermal insulation because the excess is overwhelming, however, the goal here is to ensure that no more waste is produced in our lifetime.