Fashion Industry Report: One Truckload of Clothing Is Wasted Per Second
When we think of environmental foes, the fossil fuel industry is often pegged as one of the biggest villains. But the shirts off our backs also leave a devastating planetary impact.
According to a new report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the fashion industry's current "take-make-dispose" system creates greenhouse gas emissions of 1.2 billion tonnes a year—that's "more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined."
Alarmingly, the negative impacts of the fashion industry are set to drastically increase. "If the industry continues on its current path, by 2050, it could use more than 26 percent of the carbon budget associated with a 2°C pathway," the report warns, referencing the threshold for avoiding dangerous global warming.
The report was produced by the Circular Fibres Initiative (which aims to build a circular economy for textiles starting with clothing) and was co-launched Tuesday by retired English sailor Ellen MacArthur and fashion designer Stella McCartney.
Here are some highlights from the report:
- Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned.
- An estimated $500 billion value is lost every year due to clothing that's barely worn and rarely recycled.
- Less than one percent of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing.
- Worldwide, clothing utilization—the average number of times a garment is worn before it ceases to be used—has decreased by 36 percent compared to 15 years ago.
- Clothes release half a million tonnes of microfibers into the ocean every year, equivalent to more than 50 billion plastic bottles.
McCartney, a prominent advocate of the green fashion movement, criticized the fashion industry for being "incredibly wasteful and harmful to the environment."
In the U.S., 84 percent of discarded clothes winds up in an incinerator or landfill. As EcoWatch previously reported, Americans' growing consumption of clothing has doubled to 14 million tons per year in less than two decades. The problem is further exacerbated by the increased speed of trend turnover. Fast-fashion outlets, with their quick and voluminous output, quickly change trends to stimulate more sales. However, this means that recent purchases will go out of style sooner than ever before, which means more clothes in the trash bin.
Clothing materials such as acrylic, nylon and polyester have a petroleum base, which means it could take many hundreds of years to fully decompose. And while natural fibers—which include silk, linen, cotton and semi-synthetic fibers (think modal, rayon and Tencel)—are arguably better, they still have a similar decomposition process to food which yields methane. That's not to mention all the bleach, dye and other toxic chemicals used to manufacture clothing that can contaminate water bodies or permeate the air.
Of course, we need to wear clothing. And, yes, we might have to—or simply want to—buy a new pair of pants from time to time. The $1.3 trillion clothing industry employs more than 300 million people along the value chain.
But we can definitely do better—and we must for the sake of the planet.
Notably, the new report also provides workable solutions for the current system. It urges cross-industry collaboration and innovation to achieve a new textiles economy, in which clothing is designed to last longer and be worn more often, be easily rented or resold and recycled, and not release toxins or pollution.
A press release for the report noted that “exploring new materials, pioneering business models, harnessing the power of design, and finding ways to scale better technologies and solutions are all needed to create a new textiles economy."
“The report presents a roadmap for us to create better businesses and a better environment," McCartney said. “It opens up the conversation that will allow us to find a way to work together to better our industry, for the future of fashion and for the future of the planet."
Major brands such as Core Partners H&M, Lenzing, and NIKE Inc., and C&A Foundation as Philanthropic Funder have endorsed the report.
"Today's textile industry is built on an outdated linear, take-make-dispose model and is hugely wasteful and polluting," MacArthur said, adding that the new report "presents an ambitious vision of a new system, based on circular economy principles, that offers benefits to the economy, society, and the environment."
"We need the whole industry to rally behind it," she said.
Stella and Ellen MacArthur call the textiles and fashion industry to action with the launch of the @CircularEconomy… https://t.co/Pc67lrhsWj— Stella McCartney (@Stella McCartney)1511873947.0
The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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