The fashion industry is one of the planet’s largest polluters. Research indicates that an estimated 92 million tons of textile waste is created annually by the fashion industry, and that textile waste is to increase by around 60 percent between 2015 and 2030, reaching an annual total of 148 million tons. Every second, the equivalent of a garbage truck load of clothes is burned or buried in landfill.
It’s statistics like these that made our Founder, CEO, and Designer Nina Kharey step out of the luxury fashion world into the sustainable fashion industry. She felt the impact of the environmental damage that happens behind the scenes, and started FOLDS Wear with a mission to do better for healthcare workers and the planet. In order for effective and sustainable solutions to be created, we first need to understand the background of waste in the fashion industry.
Where Does the Waste Come From?
It’s hard to imagine that 92 million tons of textiles end up in landfills every year. It begs the question, “where does all that waste come from?” Are consumers really throwing away 92 million tons of clothes, or are there other contributing factors?
Taking a closer look reveals that manufacturers and retailers generate around 13 million tons of textile waste annually. This is largely because they overproduce—30 percent of clothes made every season are never sold. Eighty-five percent of textiles thrown away are dumped into landfills or burned. In 2017, it was revealed that H&M had been burning 12 tons of unsold clothing every year since 2013.
It doesn’t help that consumers are wearing clothing 36 percent fewer times compared to 15 years ago. Fast fashion culture pressures people to keep up with the latest trends, which results in “less trendy” items getting thrown away or donated. The average Canadian purchases 70 new items of clothing per year but only wears about half of the items in their closet. Only 13.6 percent of clothes and shoes thrown away in the US end up being recycled, and less than 1 percent of what gets collected ends up being used to make new clothing.
When clothing is donated to charity, these centers must spend money to sort and dispose of unsellable items, with an estimated 25 percent going to the dump and an additional 40-50 percent getting exported into the global second hand clothing trade.
Black Friday Waste Generation
Black Friday is worth mentioning on its own in relation to waste generation because it’s a huge contributor to the annual tons of garbage that end up in landfills. In 2021, 1 in 4 Canadian shoppers overshot their Black Friday budget. Cyber Monday of 2020 became the largest online shopping day in U.S. history, with consumers spending $10.8 billion on online purchases in a single day. American households throw out 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than at any other time of the year. Much of this trash is packaging, but a surprising amount is returned products—more than 5 billion pounds of waste is generated from returned products every year.
The environmental impact of production, transportation, and returns is astounding. Between 30-40 percent of clothing sales are returned, but only 10 percent of all returns are restocked on shelves to be resold.
Black Friday deals are part of a larger system that operates with one goal: making a profit. Businesses may make money by offering 15, 20, 30, or even 40 percent discounts, but the environment suffers because of this. It’s clear that overproduction and consumption has made the fashion industry one of the world’s largest polluters. The question to ask next is how can we solve this large scale problem?
Circular Scrubs Reduce Waste
Scrubs might not be considered “fashion,” but they’re made from fabric and go through the same manufacturing process that other clothing items go through. Millions of healthcare professionals around the planet wear scrubs on a daily basis—they need to be replaced often for hygiene purposes, and are worn through quickly if they’re made from cheap materials. We can’t present any statistics reflecting scrubs waste, but have a hunch that the global number is high.
As the world’s first circular medical techwear company, protecting our customers is as equally important to us as protecting the environment. Our scrubs are dyed without the use of water, chemicals, or solvents. A set of traditional scrubs made from cotton or polyester consumes around 600 litres of water and produces 10 kg of CO₂ emissions. FOLDS scrubs are made from recycled materials, including post-consumer plastic, carpets, and airbags. Every FOLDS purchase saves 10kg of carbon emissions, 600 litres of water, and keeps 2 yards of fabric out of landfills. Plus, our fabric releases zero microfibres and microplastics into the environment! We’re even OEKO-TEX Confidence In Textiles Standard 100 certified! This means our scrubs have been tested for harmful substances and are harmless for human health.
FOLDS Wear's founder & president at the Vancouver factory
Recycling and repolymerizing old scrubs to make yarn for new scrubs means that:
- Less waste is generated
- Less waste ends up in landfills
- Fewer natural materials need to be created
- Less environmental damage from the creation of raw resources
Thread made from post-consumer plastic
Keep an eye out for our Full Circle Recycling program which launches soon! In the meantime, contact us when your scrubs are ready to be disposed of and we’ll work to collect them from you. Together we can work to reduce textile waste and microfibre pollution—one set of scrubs at a time.