Its toxic impact on the environment and people – TechAcute


The final, extremely crucial item on my “how to be eco-friendly in 2022” list is the F-word called fashion. Like any other industry, has its dark hidden secrets and a lack of harsh regulations by governments. As such, it continues to impact our environment, our technologies and, more importantly, the quality of life of people in economically poorer countries.

According to the US Environmental Agency (EPA), most of the waste is discarded textiles. Garbage includes discarded clothing, shoes, bed and bathroom linen, furniture and carpets. On average, Ghana receives 160 tons of discarded clothes every day, according to a recent DW report, by ship. Of those thrown away, 70 tonnes are deemed unusable and add to the ever-expanding 20-metre-high clothes dump.

These clothes would have arrived from organizations that promise to “recycle” and save the environment from textile waste. So the question is, “is being fashionable and technical more important than being healthy?”

Wearables, fashion technology and cleaning

Electronic textiles are fabrics interwoven with circuits for sensing, heating, lighting, and data transmission. This type of hybrid garment allows the wearer to monitor their health, accessorize their appearance, and even add smart tailoring to their wardrobe. But other questions also remain unanswered, namely “who designs what for whom? and ‘will there ever be a price cap?’

Three of the top concerns highlighted by a recent fast fashion market report are shipping cost inflation, raw material cost inflation, and geopolitical trade tensions. Fast fashion is a type of disruption where designers from diverse backgrounds get the chance to design for major clothing brands and through mass production the brand survives. Unfortunately, waste chokes the lungs of the environment.

Image: Ujala Chowdhry/TechAcute

Woven e-textiles come with small and nano circuits embedded in their fibers. These wearable sensors then input or output information received during their stay on a consumer’s body. Energy is taken from the sun, electricity and body temperature, kinetic energy from body movements, elements such as lead and many more. These electrically conductive fibers have reliable control of static electricity but have limitations. The limits can be explained by the principle of supply and demand in economics.

E-textiles are not necessary on their own, but they are attracting attention and becoming a global industry. However, there are no explanations or price caps on trendy products that may or may not come with technology. We now need an urgent urban cleaning.

Managing e-textile waste: the response from governments

According to recent research in the field of electronic waste management, a “lack of standardization of smart textiles and their waste management” prevents this industry from flourishing and reaching the masses. E-waste is already a global problem, and the addition of e-textile waste to the growing piles of clothing will only increase in the future. Some countries recognize that the issue of disposal of non-biodegradable fibers, nanocomposite materials and nanocircuits is a growing concern. However, there are no plausible solutions and regulations of nations.

As for governments, some are investing in the areas of nanoresearch to find “safety by design” ways for sustainable growth of nanomaterials. With this in mind, the EU has funded the NanoRigo project (short for NANOtechnology RIsk GOvernance) which will be coordinated by the University of Arhus in Denmark.

A recent experimental study found that even a small amount of silver nanoparticles (AgNPs), which are widely used in consumer products, can induce genotoxicity, cytotoxicity, and morphoanatomical and biochemical changes in the wearer’s body. Their disposal and release to the atmosphere is another growing concern.

Eliminate scrap metal and plastics

Based in Singapore, the Enviro-Hub Group is a company whose mission is to “reach you as citizens of the environmental movement”. The companies also operate in the rest of Asia, Europe and the Pacific. They take care of metal and plastic waste used to make the electronic circuits used in gadgets, clothes and smart wearables. The materials handled by the company are ferrous and non-ferrous metals, engineering plastics and chemicals. They also refine copper and turn plastic waste into fuel oil.

WM Intellectual Property Holdings, LLC, provides its recycling technology solutions in the United States, Canada and India, and also aims to change consumer behavior. They recycle and renovate waste recovered from landfills, homes and businesses. Waste includes a whole range of materials from plastics to metals to batteries. The company also transforms electronic devices such as batteries, LEDs, metal chips, which are the essential ingredients of an electronic textile, into something reusable and renewable.

This cycle of collection and recycling is a joint endeavor that requires thoughtful efforts from all parties, including the Head of State. Consumers will need to learn how to dispose of waste carefully and properly so that the people who collect your waste can do their job faster.

People’s response

People who really make a difference may not get the recognition they deserve. Consumers are increasingly aware of the waste produced and are redefining the abusive term “recycling”. Instead of relying on organizations, government promises and the bulls and bears of virtual markets, there are startups doing what should have been done before.

There are already huge economies building around textile waste, so it makes sense to stop the frenzy of mass production, fast fashion and price inconsistencies. Startups – such as India’s Doodlage, Korea’s Kolon Mall and Kenya’s Suave Kenya – are heading in the right direction. They use the discarded usable textile, brought in from other countries, to bring it back to life. Instead of producing, we need to focus on reducing and rebuilding. Scaling discarded fabrics and integrating technology into these garments should ideally be the right path for the still-developing e-textile world.

Evrnu, based in the United States, regenerates cotton industrial and household textiles. The company uses technologies such as regenerative cellulosic, recoverable stretch, bio-tech fibers and others to depolymerize the textile into new renewable fibers.

Based in Ahrensburg, Germany, I:Collect is another startup that collects disposable and recyclable clothing items such as shoes, PET bottles, textiles and more from homes and organizations. Whether the item is new or old, the company uses reuse and recycling technologies to make it resealable.

With these movements underway in the global market, we hope to see improvements in how we can better recycle textile waste. However, it also shows that we need to look for ways to use our resources more economically and think about their longevity of use and their potential impact on our environment.

Photo credit: The image for the report was taken by Alexi Romano. The image in the article was taken by the author for TechAcute.
Sources: McKinsey and Company / EPA / DW / ScienceDirect / Jessica Saunders (MDPI) / National Library of Medicine / ResearchGate / WM

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