China produces more than 26 million tons of textile waste per year (nearly 70,000 tons/day), according to data from the China Association of Resource Comprehensive Utilization published in 2013. As per another report (by Greenpeace), three fourths of the over 80 billion pieces of clothing items produced worldwide each year end up in landfills after only a few uses.
RE:FORM, an impact project launched by Green Initiatives in December 2016, aims to change the way consumers engage in fashion by:
- Raising awareness of the environmental and social impact of clothing consumption and encouraging 'conscious consumerism.’
- Providing communities and the industry with a reliable system to reuse and recycle discarded clothing.
- Ensuring collected items are used to their maximum potential, and are appropriately recycled.
RE:FORM collaborates with a variety stakeholders, including: community service organizations, retailers, recyclers, startups working on circular economy, educational institutions, local & global companies, media, and most importantly, consumers, to drive change towards conscious fashion.
The need to reduce textile waste is absolutely urgent. Reusing, and recycling of used textiles are both alternatives to the production of new clothes and have immediate positive environmental impact. However, neither can replace the change that needs to come from within us i.e., Reform, and reduce our environmental footprint.
Change starts with what we wear!
How You Can Participate:
- Companies and educational institutions - Contact us to set up a branded collection box for your staff and students. We also offer a project launch event and awareness workshops.
- Retailers - Join RE:FORM to set up collection boxes at your stores for your customers.
- Individuals – Buy less clothes. And for what you already have, drop your used clothing items at any of our or our partners’ collection boxes. We will shortly update this section with a map of various recycling locations.
Guidelines for Recycling Items Through RE:FORM
We accept the following items:
- All kinds of clothing, garments, towels, etc
- Bedding & curtains
- Footwear & socks
We currently DO NOT accept items that are:
- Wet or soiled
- Dirty or smelly
- Stained with chemicals
Current Apparel Drop-Off Locations
Click on the map for real-time google map (requires VPN). Click here for real-time BaiDu map. Note: Flash Player needs to be installed to access BaiDu Locations.
Key Project Partners:
Community Center Shanghai / River of Hearts: Started in 2003 under the umbrella of Community Center Shanghai, River of Hearts’ (ROH) mission is twofold: (i) to provide a way for those in need in mainland China to receive clothing, shoes, bedding, and other apparel in good condition, and (ii) to create opportunities for Shanghai residents to contribute to the improvement of Chinese families and individuals.
Crown Relocations: Crown Relocations is part of the Crown Worldwide Group with offices in over 265 locations in almost 60 countries worldwide. The Crown Group helps companies manage a globally mobile workforce, take care of local, national and international relocations, protect the integrity of corporate information and ensure the safe transit of fine art works.
Growing Problem of Textile Waste
Historically, clothing has been an item of value, used up through a long life. Over the last few decades, however, textile waste has increased. “Fast fashion” is primarily to blame – the production of cheap, trendy and disposable garments. “The True Cost,” a 2015 documentary, showed that now over 80 billion pieces of clothing are bought annually, a 400% increase from just 20 years ago. Over 1.6 trillion Yuan every year goes to new clothing in China alone.
An increase in purchases unfortunately goes hand-in-hand with an increase in waste. After a few uses, clothing that is ‘out of fashion’ or worn due to poor quality gets tossed – there is no incentive to keep or repair them with new clothing as cheap as it is. According to the US EPA, Americans dispose of 31 kg (68 lbs.) of clothing per capita per year – about 4% of the total municipal solid waste. Considering that almost all of this waste could be reused or recycled, this constitutes an unforgivable burden on the environment.
This preventable waste harms our environment in a number of ways. Worn or unwanted clothing, once buried in landfills, leeches toxic dyes and chemicals that contaminate surface and groundwater. On the other end of production, figures from Technical Textile Markets indicate that the demand for synthetic fibers made from nonrenewable fossil fuels, like polyester or nylon, doubled in the last 15 years. Nylon takes 30 to 40 years to biodegrade. Polyester? More than 200! During this lengthy decomposition, these materials and others, including wool, emit various gases that escape into the atmosphere such as methane, a greenhouse gas and key contributor global warming.
Environmental Impact of the Textile Industry
The fashion industry is the world’s second largest polluter, right after oil. The long and complex supply chain, however, makes it hard to track the exact amount of emissions and pollution generated by the global fashion industry. When estimating the environmental impact of the fashion industry, not only should obvious pollutants such as pesticides or chemicals used during the dyeing, printing and bleaching process be taken into account, but also the massive use of natural resources - water, energy and fossil fuels - during the farming of raw materials, especially cotton, processing of fibers, and the shipping of yarn and clothes.
Some fast facts regarding the environmental pollution caused by the industry:
- Cotton uses up half of the total amount of fiber used to make clothing today.
- Cotton is a highly water intensive crop, responsible for 2.6% of total global water use. A typical pair of jeans takes 7,000 liters of water to produce and a t-shirt takes 2,700 liters.
- Cotton production is responsible for 18% of the worldwide pesticide use and 25% of the total insecticide use. These are major culprits in the pollution of groundwater and the degradation of soil fertility.
- Clothing made out of synthetic fibers (polyester, acrylic, nylon, spandex, and acetate) are all based on nonrenewable fossil fuels. Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to produce polyester fiber.
- Synthetic fibers release chemicals such as formaldehyde, heavy metals, BPA (BisPhenol A), and PFC’s (PreFluorinated Chemicals) that stay in the environment for a long time and affect the health of humans and wildlife.
- The dyeing, printing and bleaching process is the most energy- and chemical-intensive stage along the clothing manufacturing line. 1.7 million tons of up to 1,600 different chemicals are used, including hazardous chemicals like PFCs or dioxin-producing chlorine compounds.
- The World Bank estimates that almost 20% of the global industrial water pollution comes from the treatment and dyeing of textiles.
- The textile dyeing process is also highly water-intensive. Between 70 and 150 liters of water are required to dye only 1kg of textile.
- Shipping highly increases the carbon footprint of clothes, with 90 percent of garments transported each year by container ships, whose low-grade bunker fuel is 1,000 times dirtier than highway diesel used in the trucking industry.
- The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions.
- Nylon production creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
- Cheap synthetic fibers emit gasses like N2O, which is 300 times more damaging than CO2.
- Over 70 million trees are logged every year and turned into fabrics like rayon, viscose, modal and lyocell to be used in textile manufacturing.
Textile Manufacturing and Environmental Pollution in China
China constitutes 53% of the world’s total textile production and is ground zero for environmental pollution. According to data from China Water Risk, a think tank based in Hong Kong that focuses on China’s water challenges, 67% of chemical fiber, 43% of cotton lint, 39% of wool and 32% of hides that went into making clothes, shoes or handbags were either produced in or passed through China as imports. 40% of all dyeing chemicals worldwide are produced and discharged into rivers, lakes and oceans in China alone. In most cases, this polluted water does not receive any treatment and still contains heavy metals, alkali salts, toxic solids, and harmful pigments.
Altogether, the textile industry in China produces 2.5 billion tons of waste water each year. Yet less than 10% of the discarded clothes are currently recycled in major Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Guangzhou, as per an article in China Daily.
China’s large share of the global fashion industry taxes the public’s health. The population is greatly affected by high levels of cancer- and asthma-causing pollutants and greenhouse gases that are harmful for people’s health as well as that of the environment.
The Path Forward - RE:FORM [Refuse, Reduce, Repair, Reuse & Recycle]
The first step to reducing the environmental impact of our clothing is simple: we need to our clothing consumption. This is where RE:FORM aims to make a difference.
RE:FORM is not just about changing the way used clothing items are refunctioned for reuse, but fundamentally changing the way we engage with fashion. We need to go back to the roots, focus on ‘less is more’ and buy fewer products of better, longer lasting quality.
Collecting, reusing and recycling (downcycling or upcycling) discarded clothes reduces the need to produce new clothes and, consequently, the environmental impact of the fashion industry.
This is an ongoing project. We are constantly looking for new partners, sponsors, and just about anyone who would like to contribute to solving the huge problem that lies before us. Please write to us!