Ask anyone who has anything to do with environmental science and they will tell you that yes, we are not very far from completely messing up our surroundings. Well, we have already done it a great deal - reached critical levels of biodiversity loss, corrupted nitrogen cycle and caused changes in climatic balance. Soon we will surpass the tolerable levels of also other facets of the environment.
In the light that the textile industry as a whole has the second largest environmental impact after oil we should not overlook the problem. So the question is not anymore in small technological advancements but a system's change. Each step of the cycle - cotton growing and protecting, production of man-made fibres, yarn spinning, weaving, washing, sewing, packing, retailing, using and disposing, plus all the transport around the world - adds up to the big ecological footprint. The exploitative nature of linear industrious systems is yesterday's news. Tomorrow cries for better solutions and many of them are practiced already.
If we take waste separately then it is rather obvious that waste is not good. Waste is 'work in vain' - taking all the natural resources, chemicals (pesticides, dyes etc.), water, work, energy that is put into the material and just throwing it away. And at the same time for a new garment new, virgin materials are exploited. Now where's the sense in that? Ever wondered that there is no waste in nature's ecological cycles? And why should man-made cycles be any different? But there are many options as to what to do about it. The best guide to follow is the Waste Hierarchy which prioritizes the actions from top to bottom:
- Reduce - preventing or lowering the amount of waste produced
- Reuse - repeatedly using the materials as they are
- Recycle - using materials to make new products by changing them
- Recovery - recovering energy from waste, usually by burning
- Landfill - disposal of waste to landfill or dumps.
When considering these options, then landfilling or dumping is the least favoured option and reducing or prevention is obviously the best. There are other approaches that fall into or between those categories, like upcycling. Overall, recycling is not the 'magic approach' that solves everything but it is a very obvious and significant start.