Recycling is not a revolution

Nowadays recycling seems to be the most hip way to be environmentally-friendly. And oh yes, I do it as well: recycling pretty much everything at home and shopping mostly second hand. And at work, I have used many recycled materials in the Nurmi collections. So don’t get me wrong, I love recycling.

But when it comes to garments we have a serious recycling problem. Most of the garments produced nowadays are of such a low quality that they cannot be recycled: Flea markets are full of shitty garments that nobody wants to have. And even though we think that we’re making a good deed when giving these unwanted garments to charity – the truth is that most of these garment are of so low quality that they end up on landfills or will be burned in to energy (which is just a band-aid solution).

But hey, in the near future our old garments can be recycled as fibers into new materials. Already some stores offer customers the possibility to give garments back and some of this post-consumer waste is already turned into new fabrics. This has to be a great way to get rid of your old garments, right?

The main reason why many clothing companies are investing in recycling is that this way they can ensure the raw material sufficiency also in the future. As there’s not enough land to cultivate more cotton and the oil for making polyester won’t be there forever, recycled materials are thought to be the solution to be able to keep the current fast fashion system up and running.

Of course it’s important to develop textile recycling as we need to move towards a circular economy where all of the materials we use in our garments are recycled into new raw materials again. But if we concentrate only on recycling and the rest of the cycle stays the same, we’re in big trouble.

Recycling is a consequence, not the cause why the clothing industry is unsustainable. The real focus should be on producing less but with better quality. And already during the production phase we should design the garment in a way that it’s as easily recyclable as possible.

Secondly, we should not only focus on recycling but on changing our consumption habits: When we take our old garments to a recycling bin it should not be an excuse to buy more.

A true revolution doesn’t start by recycling, it starts by rethinking the whole system.