Textile waste: the B (and unsustainable) side of fashion
The record of Atacama Desert that the photographer Martín Bernetti spread at the end of 2021 was overwhelming. Viralized especially in social networks, it managed to show the magnitude of the clothing dump that took over the geography of the Iquique region in northern Chile. And although that is not something that has happened overnight, the massive view on screens around the planet once again staged one of the main conflicts that the clothing industry is going through and, in a broader aspect, society. as a whole: what is done with textile waste. In turn, this image, in addition to representing the tons of discarded clothing that the neighboring country imports, is the surface expression of other underlying issues, such as those that involve the instance of consumption and that refer to if you have to keep buying new clothes or what can be done when you stop wearing a garment. At the same time, it is an alert for the government areas in charge of establishing public policies for the management of this type of waste. Something that, in most cases, it is relegated to the detriment of the greater attention given to single-use plastics and also to electronic waste.
In Spain, the Congress of Deputies has just discussed the “Law on waste and contaminated soil” which, among other things, establishes the implementation of the selective collection of textile waste before December 31, 2024
In this scenario, government initiatives aimed at clothing discards continue to be scarce or incipient. For example, in Chile it was only last September that the Ministry of the Environment announced that it would include textile waste in the Extended Producer Responsibility Law (REP) dating from 2016. This means that those who produce and market it must also consider how the collection, reuse, revaluation and recycling will be once their useful life ends. While in Argentina, although there are still no significant advances both on the part of the national State, as well as in the City of Buenos Aires, in Chubut, for example, professionals from the local headquarters of the National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI) are carrying out a survey on the textile production ecosystem where they contemplate what are the waste generated in the area.
It is also worth noting that it is not an exclusive problem for South American countries. In this sense, in Spain the Congress of Deputies has just discussed the “Law on waste and contaminated soil” which, among other things, establishes the implementation of the selective collection of textile waste before December 31, 2024. In a broader framework , the European Parliament launched the New Action Plan for the circular economy two years ago, which, among other objectives, focuses on the reuse of products originating from this industry, in addition to promoting new business models.
The truth is that in a context marked more by the imperative of overproduction of clothing and footwear than by the real need of consumers – where according to the estimate of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development held in 2019, the production world clothing doubled between 2000 and 2014 – more and more civil society organizations and activists are anticipating the consequences that the contamination of discarded clothing will bring in the not too distant future. At the same time, there are alternatives from brands and entrepreneurs who insist on proposals, some artisanal and others more or less industrial, to ensure that garments (and therefore the fabric and fiber that they are made of) do not end up in a landfill. In this way, they design creative shortcuts so that this clothing continues to circulate and even be consumed in other forms and in another way. Along these lines, the most common ventures are those linked to the donation and sale of used or so-called vintage clothing, such as those that appear on the interactive map for Latin America that is being managed by the Argentine branch of the Fashion Revolution movement. Proposals that deconstruct textile products to change their meaning and generate new or directly material designs are also gaining ground.
“I am in this adventure of rethinking new concepts”, says Victoria Cerón from Spain, where she is studying a master’s degree in Fashion and Sustainability Co-design at the Escola d’Art i Superior de Disseny in Valencia. The Chilean-born designer – who lived for a time in Buenos Aires – is the founder of Telare, the project with which she transforms discarded clothing into strips of cloth to weave on a loom. Raw material from which he makes art pieces and makes clothing and footwear products in fusion with other firms such as Domingo, with which he created backpacks and fanny packs in 2019, or the trans-Andean company Quappe with which he recently launched a line of sandals.
This recovery that Cerón makes can be considered as another expression of upcycling, the increasingly expanded way of rescuing garments by taking advantage of existing material and assigning it a new function to prevent it from ending up in a landfill. Technique that is also part of the resources used by local brands such as Tramando and Somos Dacal, even by internationally recognized companies such as Marine Serre and Stella McCartney. Precisely the latter, led by the designer of the same name, was one of the only representatives of the fashion industry that at the last COP26 in Glasgow (Scotland) also warned about the little use that is given to clothes before throwing them away and the millions of dollars that that implies.
Another intermediate way, between the artisanal and an industrial phase, is the one found by Agustina Vilariño, a designer graduated from the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urbanism of the UBA, when developing “Quecha”. It is a textile shredding machine from which it shreds the fabric from sheets and towels to generate fleece as a raw material that allows it to manufacture thread that can be dyed and used for crocheting, for example. Although Vilariño can only carry out the first stage of his project at the moment, his purpose is also to link up with suitable people to generate products such as rugs or cleaning rags.
In turn, another of the results is that of paper made based on discarded clothing produced in denim (popularly known as “jean”) granted by the Limay firm and later worked on by the artist Julio Mroue from the Confluencia workshop.
Javier Toranzo is also venturing into denim in Córdoba. With more than sixteen years of experience in the sector, she takes advantage of the scraps of fabric from the factory where she works to redefine them in new designs. Recycle and Denim is the name of the project with which he started making garments (kimonos, for example) and “jean” dolls from which the boys could assimilate the habit of recycling, to later get fully into the disinfection of the waste of flat goods that in its scope amount to around eight tons per month. “We saw that something had to be done,” says Toranzo, who during the last year has sought to link up with other entrepreneurs and companies that may be interested in this material. Thus, it joined Karikal to make cladding panels made from scrap (textile waste) and joined by a binder component. Until now, the tests carried out indicate that the product obtained from discarded fabric is water-repellent (it prevents the passage of water), practically fire-retardant and dielectric (it does not conduct electricity).
Those actions carried out to mitigate the indiscriminate production of clothing, therefore the discarding and pollution caused by clothing and footwear that are thrown away, are usually considered in the broader framework of the so-called ” circular fashion. Although, regarding the latter, Pablo Galaz Esquivel, a Chilean social communicator expert in sustainability, explains that it is time to differentiate and proposes to transcend that concept. Talking no longer about circular fashion but about circular economy in fashion, when considering that the latter is part of a system of transaction of goods, consumption and social relations as a whole. In this sense, it also clarifies that for there to be a circular economy, it is a sine qua non condition that there is traceability from the beginning of the product. This refers to the fact that there must be knowledge of the origin, the way of thinking about the goods, even how they will be reincorporated; Where do they come from and where do they end up? “What do I mean by this? Other business models such as exchange, rental and repair appear,” he details. “So, the circular economy starts from the design table, even before that, designers reflect on what they really want to communicate, and this has to do with an experience, it is not just the manufacture of a product, that is why it is also talked about. to use and not to buy clothes”, he concludes.