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How do I look?

By Jonathan van Bilsen

I have always been intrigued at how we handle waste. The Dutch, for example, recycle 57 percent of their collected waste. China sits at 31 percent, the US is at 32 percent and Canada recycles a whopping 9 percent.*

I was curious how this breakdown works and was stunned to learn the fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to landfill waste, worldwide. Chile, for example, receives hundreds of shipments of clothes each week at the port of Iquique. There, resellers purchase some, but most goes to landfill, as it is not up to the standards of the retailers. Many less fortunate people rummage through the discarded clothes, and take enough for personal use.

The Atacama Desert, in Northern Chile, is known by tourists as one of the best places to view the night sky. Unfortunately, it is now gaining popularity, for its less wondrous distinction, as one of the fastest growing dumps for discarded clothing in the world. The UN, in fact, has labeled the area an environmental and social emergency.

So where do all these clothes come from? China exports $660 million dollars annually, which I assumed was the highest, but that is not the case. The USA exports $880 million a year in fashion wear, followed by the European Union at $799 million dollars and the UK at $316 million.

The biggest buyer of fashion wear is the country of Ghana which imports $213 million a year, followed by Chile which brings in $135 million, next on the list is Kenya, and so forth.

I wondered what was involved in the production of textiles, and was shocked to learn some very interesting facts.

For example, did you know, every year, the fashion and shoe industry uses twice as much energy as all of India? The same industry’s annual greenhouse gas is 2 percent of all carbon emissions. That is the same as the entire aviation industry.

The majority of used clothing ends up in landfill, and most of it is polyester which of course does not breakdown, so it is usually burned. In fact, the exact amount is 60 million tons.

Lastly, the one which blew me away is, it takes 7,600 litres (2,000 gallons) of water to make one pair of jeans. Which is the same as drinking eight cups of water a day for ten years.

I am not sure what the answer is, but I guess recycling clothes, such as drop boxes, certainly will not hurt.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on RogersTV, the Standard Website and YouTube.

*As stated by the Government of Canada on Source: National Geographic

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