We won’t talk about trends in fashion. Although what we are going to talk about is already trendy. But more on that in a moment. Look around – what are you wearing today? T-shirt, pants, dress or something else? You have chosen them according to your taste, you have matched them according to color, material, and season. But do you know where these clothes came from and where they are going?
They call textiles the new plastic. Some time ago brands released spring, summer, autumn and winter collections. Today, there are also mid-season collections, and the biggest brands release clothes, shoes and accessories every month, some every two weeks. Why is this an environmental problem? Behind the extraction of raw materials, production, and sale of the final product, there is a huge amount of energy and resources – for example, 93 billion cubic meters of water are used every year, which would otherwise be enough to fulfill the needs of 1.7 billion people. The average annual textile consumption per capita in Europe is 26 kg. We live in an environment of overconsumption. In just 15 years, clothing production has doubled worldwide, and each person buys about 60% more textiles on average. Forecasts are that by 2030, the consumption of new clothes and shoes will grow by another 65%.
There are two reasons- the rapid change in fashion trends imposed by large fashion corporations and the great availability of new textile products. In short – fast fashion at low prices. The quantities are gigantic – between 10.7 and 11.7 million tons of fully finished and ready-to-sell textiles are imported and produced annually in the European Union. Out of these, over 5 million tons enter our homes.
Textiles leave their serious imprint on nature in mainly two ways – during production and during retirement. The jeans you’re probably wearing right now are made from cotton, and its growth requires large amounts of water, as well as land, that could have grown food, for example. But the majority of clothes are not made of cotton, but of polyester, which is basically plastic. New clothes are often a combination of artificial and natural materials of low quality. Natural materials are better for the body. Cotton’s growth, however, requires many conditions – good growth care, no pesticides, satisfactory working conditions for the pickers, sustainable harvest. Conditions that make the final product more expensive and that large corporations in the industry try to avoid.
However, clothes are not only textiles – often there are prints, various ornaments, paint, small and large decorations on them. It has been proven that each of us has ingested microplastics, the size of a debit card – about 10 grams. This is just one way in which plastic enters the biological cycle and food chain – when we wash our clothes, small pieces of these prints and decorations fall off, and through wastewater from the washing machine they go down the drain. Then they enter waterbodies, where fish and all sea creatures ingest them. Finally, we eat these fish and subtly swallow these microplastics. The problem is so serious that a Directive for washing machine manufacturers is being considered. This way they would only sell appliances that prevent these tiny artificial bits from escaping into nature.
But let’s go back to textiles – what do we do with a garment that after several times in the washing machine is no longer wearable or we don’t want it anymore? A 2020 survey conducted by BluePoint shows that 59.8% of people give away their old clothes to relatives and friends. 47.3% put them in the recycling bins (which is a great increase in a short time, prior 2018 only 18% did this). However, 7.8% throw their old and unnecessary clothes in the general garbage containers. Unfortunately, for the last 10 years, textile waste has doubled – over 100,000 tons per year are thrown away in Bulgaria which is five times the weight of the National Palace of Culture (NDK). Clothing production is growing, and if no further measures are taken, the forecasts for 2035 show around 50% increase compared to now.
A garment going to the landfill has its mark on nature. A process of decay begins, which releases harmful emissions. Therefore, other ways to collect and reuse unnecessary textiles are being sought. Currently, only between 1 and 5% of clothes are collected in Bulgaria. Over 95% of textiles are disposed of with the rest of the mixed household waste. However, the culture of recycling and collecting clothes in containers is becoming more and more popular. Here we have something to brag about – Bulgaria has several textile centers that process 30-35 thousand tons per year. After sorting the collected garments, the more preserved ones are returned for reuse or donated. Recently, the Bulgarian Association of Circular Textiles presented a report on the implementation of circular economy in the textile sector in Bulgaria, where they calculated the benefits for nature. For example, reused clothes have preserved 1.7 million tonnes of carbon emissions that would otherwise have been generated by the production of new textiles and clothing.
Again, according to studies, textiles are more popular than ever – 43% of people in our country buy a new garment every two to three months, 20% every month, and nearly 7% two to three times a month. European institutions are once again reaching for regulations to solve the problems in the sector, which would otherwise drag on for years. In 2019, the European Commission prioritized the introduction of measures in the textile industry. Therefore, from January 1, 2025, the separate collection of textiles will become mandatory throughout the EU, including Bulgaria.
Let’s go back to where we started: fashion. It’s really about setting and following certain trends, isn’t it? For example, purple may be the trendy colour this year, but isn’t it trendier to look at textiles as something more than just a garment, a curtain, or a beach towel. Long ago, Stefan Tsanev, wrote „Wear your new clothes, boys…“ and this became a catchphrase for enjoying the moment. Let everybody choose their life philosophies by themselves. But when we wear our new clothes today, it’s good to think about what we’re leaving behind and take care of its path afterwards.