The natural fibre cotton that is used to make fabric, which is then turned in to clothing, is being consumed at a faster rate than ever before. Think about it, there are over 7 billion people on this planet. 7 billion! Now multiply that number by the amount of clothes you have in your wardrobe, chest of draws, or have thrown away recently. Then think about how many more clothes are sitting on shelves, draped over mannequins in department stores and in warehouses up and down the county. It’s a staggering amount.
Fashion is a multi billion pound industry and the rate that style is changing, clothes are being bought and then discarded is a worrying sign of things to come. Westernised habits are changing culture, but where do all the unwanted clothes end up?
"Until now old clothes have often been used as filler material for underneath wall-to-wall carpeting, but when the carpeting is removed or the building is knocked down, the material goes to the landfill anyway," says Lewis Perkins, senior vice-president of the San Francisco-based Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, which develops sustainable new uses for discarded products.
However, companies are trying to solve this problem. Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology have developed methods of recreating cotton so that we don’t rely so heavily on the natural fiber and we aren’t in danger of it becoming a scares resource as the world clears land for food production.
In June 2014, a group of Swedish companies presented the world's first dress made entirely of recycled cotton. It was a yellow dress and you could be forgiven that it was something purchased from the very high street where you shop.
"The scalability of this process is enormous," says Henrik Norlin, business development manager at Re:newcell, which made the material. "The technology allows us to recycle all materials that contain cellulose. We can recycle fabrics that contain a mix of cotton and other materials but get the best results when recycling pure cotton. It will be able to process 2,000 tonnes per year, allowing us to show the scalability of the process," says Norlin.
This is a massive step forward for the evolution of this planet and Norlin predicts that recycling clothes follow a similar route to recycling paper. "Early on in paper recycling, only a small share of paper was recycled. Now most paper is recycled. We could see fabric do the same thing," he says.